What Good Assessors Do
Greg F. Zamenski, CMAE III
PreSident, AdvancedAssessment Technologies
A message to our taxpayers…
In these uncertain economic times we would expect our taxes to go down based on market behavior. While that is a logical thought, we also know that there are limits to these ideas and sometimes we just have to accept that certain parts of the tax system are administered with good faith by your local assessor but are changed in areas outside of our control. Proposal A, which you will always hear us begin our dialog with, is one of those most important areas, because the taxes are levied outside of our legal boundaries, and is largely the issue we find most discussed during March Board of Reviews. Most of you may be aware of the 2009 CPI that governs our taxes directly. This upcoming year it will be 4.4% which, when applied to your taxable value, could increase your taxes for 2009. Until this law is changed, these taxable values will, (except under very limited circumstances) be part of another system of taxation that only your legislators, not your assessor, or local or county treasures, can change. This system is set up for a type of “leveling out” of our property taxes avoiding large increases or decreases in our tax base.
The local assessor uses many ways to track current values. A good assessor is always looking to improve the assessment process using various approaches to value. This could account for your assessment going up. Remember, it is not the increase (if any) of last year vs. this year, it is what the real estate is worth based on current activity; land sales, building construction, and modified building construction costs as corrected by local market conditions, and are the mainstay for residential properties. In a perfect world, we would have typical sales along with other data, but currently, and into the foreseeable future, our information is drawn from a market that has seen sales above, or below, even what we consider what the “typical” sale is. For this reason, there may be properties sold below even what we see as our current market trend. We simply cannot follow these sales, as this imparts us into unethical behavior and territory that we, as assessors, watch very carefully. Make no mistake, there are agencies that direct our market analysis, watch us very carefully, and expect us to stay within targeted municipality-wide adjustments. And while you are thinking about it, yes, there are agencies that watch those agencies as well!
The local condition is based on our ECF or Economic Condition Factor. A good assessor is always looking to this ECF and is modifying this ECF through mathematical formulas and, at times, sees a different and more accurate way to assess your real estate. Imagine lakefront property sales being compared to non-lake front property sales; this, along with many other factors, can change neighborhood codes and our ECF’s possibly every single year which in effect, can produce valuations that may not make sense at the first review (i.e. the Assessment Change Notice).
The simple truth is this, assessors are taxpayers first; because of this we strongly believe in our principals. If there is one among us who does not, they will not be a member or our profession for long; the other agencies are watching as well, and as long as we understand and work together, we can reduce the perception of unfair practices.