Board picks firm for reassessment

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County leaders kicked off the next round of real estate reassessments Tuesday and made a change to the process.

The Board of Supervisors voted at its regular meeting to approve a contract with Wingate and Associates Ltd. to perform the county’s 2019 general reassessment at a cost of up to $20.45 per parcel, $15 per mobile home and $6,000 for digital photographs if necessary. The reassessment will cost a total of $535,110. The county paid $16.45 per parcel in 2015.

The county has 25,635 parcels, 325 mobile homes and anticipates the firm would need to take 2,000 photographs. The firm will perform the reassessment with values effective Jan. 1, 2019. Wingate’s work would commence this July 1.

County Administrator Doug Stanley said the one change proposed by officials is to not use a county-appointed board of assessors. State code provides that a professional assessor or a board of assessors of no fewer than three members perform real estate reassessments. The county has appointed such a board in the past. However, county officials found it difficult in 2013 to find people willing to give their time to serve on the board of assessors. During negotiations, Stanley said, Wingate offered a discount of 75 cents per parcel to allow the firm’s staff to act as assessors. Stanley said this would save roughly a half  to a full day per week. Keeping the board of assessors would have increased the cost of the services by $19,226 plus $80 per day for each member of the panel. The county must still provide a Board of Equalization for the reassessment process.

A reassessment selection committee reviewed offers from several firms received after the county issued a request for proposals, as approved by the board in December. Wingate, Wampler-Eanes Appraisal Group Ltd., and Pearson’s Appraisal Service Inc. submitted proposals. The regional selection committee reviewed the proposals and interviewed firms April 26 with Wingate ranking highest. Each locality must negotiate and sign its own contract with any of the three firms.

State code requires that localities hold a general reassessment of real estate every four years. Counties with a population of 50,000 or below can, by a majority vote of supervisors, choose to hold reassessments at either five- or six-year intervals. Warren County supervisors have chosen a four-year cycle.

County administration officials continue to recommend keeping the four-year cycle for several reasons. For instance, a property’s fair-market value can increase or decrease over time. If such tax records don’t change with the market, some people could pay too much in taxes while other pay too little, administration officials contend. The Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office provides the Virginia Department of Taxation with all, “arms-length” real estate sales so a ratio between assessments and market sales can be determined. The ratio, if below 80 percent, can affect the county’s composite index and thus funding for the school system.

Based on recent trends through the last reassessment, residential properties would see a decline in value to a greater extent than commercial and industrial properties, administration officials contend.