Panel to hear property value complaints

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County property owners who question the recent reassessments can appeal the appraisal.

But appealing the new values before the Board of Equalization is no guarantee that its members will side with the owner and change the reassessment.

The county hired the Wampler Eanes Appraisal Group in 2014 to conduct the reassessment process, which it completed last fall. Property owners began receiving notices shortly thereafter indicating the new values that would take effect in 2016. Steve Wampler said recently that about 200 or so property owners contested their assessments with the firm after receiving notices.

The Board of Supervisors recently voted to recommend the circuit court appoint Geary Showman, Mike Good and Justin Pence to serve on the Board of Equalization. Bill Wine will serve as the alternate member. The court approved the appointees after each member completed the required training course put on by the Virginia Department of Taxation, Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass said Friday. The county received notification earlier this week that the members completed the training, Vass said. The appointees must be sworn in to become members, Vass said.

State code requires that the Board of Equalization provide 10 days public notice before they can meet. Vass said he anticipates the board will meet in early March to elect a chairman and set a hearing schedule. The board must advertise the hearings as scheduled, Vass added.

Each member receives a stipend of $80 per hearing session.

Commissioner of Revenue Kathy Black said Friday that once the Board of Equalization is sworn in, the county will advertise a phone number that property owners can call to schedule hearings with the panel. The county will advertise the number in local newspapers as well as post it on the website and in public areas such as libraries and possibly the courts.

But the burden of proof falls on the property owners.

“The Board of Equalization’s duty is to equalize assessments so it’ll be the taxpayers’ responsibility to bring in proof that their property is not assessed equal to their surrounding properties,” Black said.

A few property owners have called the office inquiring about the hearing schedule, Black said. But the number of people with grievances about their assessments won’t be known until the scheduling process begins.

Property owners not satisfied with the Board of Equalization’s determination can appeal the panel’s decision to the circuit court, Vass said.

The Board of Equalization’s work will continue into the spring while the Board of Supervisors discusses the fiscal 2017 budget and tax rates. County officials use the projected revenue generated by real estate taxes and other levies to create a balanced budget. Whether or not the results of the assessment hearings would have any effect on the revenue stream remains uncertain. Vass said this would depend on how many property owners appeal to the Board of Equalization, how many adjustments are made and to what degree.

Land values on average fell since the last reassessment performed in 2009, according to information provided by the firm in October. Home values either dropped or increased across the county, depending on different variables used to assess properties.

State code requires localities perform reassessments no more than six years apart. County supervisors chose in 2013 to put off the reassessment until 2015 because the housing market likely would not improve enough by 2014 to generate revenue needed to justify the cost of the process. The county’s contract with Wampler Eanes limits the cost of the firm’s services to $535,000.

The delay might not have made much of a difference. Preliminary figures provided by the Commissioner of Revenue’s office indicate that total value of taxable property across the county has dropped by approximately $15.6 million. That reduction amounts to approximately $89,158 at the county’s current real estate tax rate of 57 cents per $100 of the assessed value. Real estate taxes remain the county’s main source of revenue.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

An earlier version of this story should have stated that a reduction in the taxable value of property in Shenandoah County would amount to a loss of approximately $89,158 in revenue from real estate tax at a rate of 57 cents per $100 of the assessed value.

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