By Alex Bridges
Shenandoah County begins the reassessment process in the next few months and property owners could see new home values by the end of 2015.
The Board of Supervisors recently awarded a contract to Wampler Eanes Appraisal Group to perform the next reassessment of real estate property in the county. The contract limits the cost of such services to $535,000. That amount equates to roughly 1.2 cents of the real estate tax rate.
Daleville, Va.-based Wampler Eanes performed the last reassessment for the county. The process began in 2008 and property values took effect Jan. 1, 2010. The process takes approximately a year and a half.
The county advertised for proposals from interested appraisal firms in February and received responses from three companies. Commissioner of the Revenue Kathy Black said Wednesday the county also received proposals from Blue Ridge Appraisal Co. and Wingate Appraisal Service. Blue Ridge offered to perform the reassessment at $11.50 per parcel, Black said. Wingate offered to do the work for $17.95 per parcel. At the rates provided, reassessment would cost $382,766 if done by Blue Ridge and $597.448 by Wingate.
Information provided by the county notes that the contract with Wampler Eanes includes a per parcel price of $15.25. The county currently has 33,284 parcels.
County Administrator Mary T. Price explained Wednesday that each proposal included a "non-binding" per-parcel cost. The county issued a request for proposal rather than an invitation to bid for the services. In the latter option, bidders would give a firm price for their services. But under this approach, the county would need a good reason not to choose the lowest bidder, Price said.
"The request for proposal process is not solely based on price," the administrator said. "It's also the qualifications of the firm."
Proposals don't have to include a contract cost. The county asked firms to provide a non-binding cost estimate, Price said. The proposal process allowed the county to review the firms' references and look at their work for other jurisdictions.
"It's not all about the price," the administrator said.
Price explained that the county will be charged only the $15.25 per parcel amount. At that rate, the cost to the county would come to $507,581 if the firm appraises all existing parcels. The $535,000 contract limit allows for flexibility in case a subdivision is built or new parcels are created during the assessment process.
Wampler Eanes charged the county $13.95 per parcel when it conducted the last reassessment in 2008, according to information from Black.
Shenandoah County's proposed fiscal 2015 budget includes $433,654 for the reassessment costs. The budgeted amount falls below the contracted price. As Price explained, the county will be paying for the services over the course of two budget cycles since the process takes more than a year to complete. The fiscal 2016 budget would likely include funds to cover the remaining cost of the reassessment. The amount would cover the cost to employ a board of equalization appointed to handle appraisal disputes not disposed of by the contracted firm. The board would conduct its business in early 2016.
Shenandoah County typically has pursued a reassessment every four years as allowed by state code. State code allows jurisdictions with 50,000 people or fewer to conduct reassessments at either five year or six year intervals. Supervisors in August 2012 decided to delay the reassessment to 2014, thus deferring the cost to a later budget cycle. Officials justified the delay by saying that the housing market had remained flat.
The general reassessment must begin in fiscal 2015, which begins this July 1, and be completed by Dec. 31, 2015 to take effect Jan. 1, 2016, according to information from the county.
A committee made up of Price, Black and Supervisors John R. "Dick" Neese and Marsha Shruntz interviewed the firms and came up with a recommendation during a closed session March 11. County Attorney J. Jay Litten also reviewed the contract.
The board voted 5-1 at its meeting March 25 to award the contract. Supervisor Cindy Bailey questioned the use of Wampler Eanes as the appraisal firm and stated that the county had had some problems with the company during the last reassessment. Bailey told supervisors she would like to have negotiated with the other two firms. Shruntz said the panel worked hard to reach a deal and that the committee came to a consensus on which firm it would recommend.
The contract also requires Wampler Eanes to hold public forums in the north, central and southern parts of the county, and for firm representatives to speak to civic groups in an effort to raise awareness of their work over the next year and a half. The firm must mail notices to property owners two weeks before the first forum. Likewise, notices must appear on the county website.
Price said Wampler Eanes will begin the initial work on the reassessments in the coming months, including the public forums and film on the website, but would not start the appraisal process until July 1. Price said the county and the firm are working with the towns to reach out to civic groups.
The contractor also must supply the qualified personnel to the county to address owners' concerns, questions or complaints about the values set by the appraisal process. The firm must notify the taxpayer the results of his or her complaint and give recommendations on how to deal with such concerns.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org