Douglas, Sarpy valuation appeals lag as deadline approaches

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Posted: Monday, June 24, 2013 12:00 am

With a week to go before the July 1 deadline, property valuation protests this year in Douglas and Sarpy Counties are well below last year's totals.

But county officials say they're bracing for what typically is a last-minute flurry of valuation appeals.

“A lot of the protests are filed close to the end of the month,” said Catherine Hall, Douglas County assistant administrator, who oversees the county's Board of Equalization.

Across Nebraska, June represents the once-a-year opportunity for homeowners, businesses and farmers to seek lower property valuations. Valuations are important because, together with the tax rates set by local governments, they determine the size of next year's property tax bills.

A lower valuation often means lower taxes. For example, for an Omaha house assessed at $150,000, a $10,000 valuation cut would knock $210 off next year's tax bill, assuming tax rates remain unchanged. Look up property valuations in Douglas and Sarpy Counties, and find real estate sales reports and neighborhood census data.

Last year, more than 4,400 property owners in Douglas County and 689 in Sarpy appealed the valuations that had been set by county assessors. About half of those who protested wound up with lower valuations.

So far this year, just over 1,000 property owners — 922 in Douglas and 102 in Sarpy — had filed appeals by Friday, according to county officials. As in past years, most of the protests involve residential property, which accounts for the majority of real estate parcels.

Because June 30 falls on Sunday this year, valuation protests will be accepted through July 1. They can be filed in person at county offices or postmarked by next week's deadline.

Property owners can challenge their valuations regardless of whether they were increased in 2013. What matters is whether a valuation accurately reflects current market value, and whether it is treated fairly compared to other properties.

While the vast majority of home valuations in the two counties this year were either reduced or remained unchanged by county assessors, a recent World-Herald analysis indicated that thousands of homes still could be assessed too high. As a result, those homeowners would be at risk of paying more than their fair share of property taxes unless they appeal their valuations this month.

The World-Herald looked at valuations of about 10,000 houses that sold in 2012 and early 2013 and compared them to the sales prices of those homes. About 30 percent of the Douglas County sales and 25 percent of the Sarpy sales had valuations that were higher than their sales prices.

While the analysis looked only at houses that sold recently — and therefore had clear evidence of what they were worth — there could be a similar gap between valuations and estimated market values for other houses in the two counties.

Without a recent sale to prove current value, a property owner who is interested in filing a protest can research valuations and sales for comparable properties.

The owner also can cite evidence that his or her property may be in worse shape than county appraisers realized, such as a cracked foundation or a damaged roof.

It's also a good idea to double-check the county's property records, since the taxable valuation may be based on a mistake in a house's square footage or number of bathrooms.

Protest rules and other information are available at:

Douglas County — or 402-444-6510.

Sarpy County — or 402-593-5957.

Once filed, protests will be reviewed by referees — independent appraisal experts hired by the counties. Their recommendations in turn will be voted on by County Board members, who serve as the Board of Equalization.

Property owners can appeal their County Board's decisions to the State Tax Equalization and Review Commission.

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