Some Liberty County residents have expressed concern over this year’s property-tax assessments.
The Liberty County Board of Assessors’ chief appraiser, Glenda Roberts, gave a presentation at last week’s county commission meeting to address some of these concerns and offer clarification on the work her office is performing.
According to Roberts, the last total land revaluation was completed in 2002. In 2008, a revaluation study was completed in anticipation of schedule changes that were supposed to take effect in 2009. However, the enactment of a statewide moratorium in 2009 put a freeze on property values, allowing them to decrease but not increase for the next three years.
In 2012, the moratorium was lifted, and property values remained stagnant while the assessors’ office compiled data to begin the revaluation process. However, due to the 34.82 percent average assessment level in the county’s 2012 digest, Liberty County was assessed a penalty for being under the proper assessment ratio of 40 percent. In accordance with state regulations, the county was given three years to correct its deficiencies before further action would be taken.
The assessors’ office spent 2013 doing complete revaluations of commercial and industrial property — two of four total classes of property. The other two classes are residential and agricultural, also known as rural land, or land that has not been developed.
Rural-land assessments begin with a base value, called “fair market value.” This value is determined using “benchmark sales” — that is, bona fide transactions between two unaffiliated parties. Sales between family members, friends or any two parties with similar interests may not be considered bona fide transactions. Most land sales do not qualify as bona fide transactions.
For example, in 2013, there were 2,252 total land sales in Liberty County. However, only 30 qualified as bona fide transactions — benchmark sales — which then were used to determine fair market value. So far in 2014, there have been 968 land sales, only 15 of which have qualified as benchmark sales.
Once fair market value is determined, individual properties are further assessed based on numerous other factors unique to the specific properties. Quality of soil, property location and standing timber are examples of factors that help determine a land’s overall taxable value.
Property size also plays a role in determining a land owner’s assessment. Land parcels of 20 acres and more are considered “large-acre,” while parcels of 19 acres or fewer are “small-acre.” The assessors’ office uses a procedure called blending, which takes into account larger tracts of land and appropriately adjusts assessment rates based on size.
In a follow-up interview, Roberts analogized the blending technique.
“Use the Sam’s wholesale club: I get a better price for buying in bulk,” Roberts said. She then explained that a 20-acre parcel will be charged the same base rate as an 18-acre parcel, but the 20-acre parcel’s assessment will factor in its larger size.
Roberts then addressed exemptions, which seem to have been a point of contention among some property owners. She said that exemptions, which are set at the state level and enacted by the county, actually are voted into law by taxpayers.
“Exemptions are just that — if you’re receiving an exemption, somebody else is picking up that portion,” Roberts said. “And so, while we can’t deny a person an exemption, that tax burden is basically just shifted to someone else.”
Roberts also reminded the commission that property owners may appeal their property assessments. All appeals must be submitted by July 7.
Roberts said property owners should not compare their tax assessments because of the numerous variables and exemptions that apply to individual tracts of land. Rather, land owners should look at their base rates, which should be consistent among all property owners in Liberty County.
“There is a methodology behind what we do,” Roberts said.
She also noted that while it is impossible to break down individual tax assessments in large forum, property owners are encouraged to come to the assessors’ office for one-on-one assessment explanations.
“We welcome anyone that has questions or really want to get a greater, in-depth understanding,” Roberts said.