Friday, May 1, 2009

Assessing reassessments III

I've had a couple of earlier posts - Assessing reassessments and Assessing reassessments II - where I commented on the numbers, the dollars, and the politics of the controversial reassessments in Augusta County. At this point, Mr. Chester's lawsuit is awaiting trial unless the judge dismisses it - which will be the likely outcome. Chester is clueless and the suit groundless. Of course, he's taken his services to the people of Page County to aid them in their tax battles. All I can say, Page people beware.
Back in Augusta County, the Board of Supervisors is poised to approve a 48¢ tax rate, a decrease from the current 58¢ rate that has been in effect since the 1980s. That is less than revenue neutral! A couple months ago a rowdy and rude mob - that's really not too strong a term - filled a public hearing to bash the supervisors. The other night only two people spoke up on the tax rate cut. Hum!
So, what will that mean? Well, some taxpayers, me included, will see a modest increase because of the new higher assessed value. But, let me emphasize modest. And my property is assessed a bit lower than a recent appraisal that was done for a refinance. I've heard from about a couple dozen homeowners who have "enjoyed" a similar epiphany. 
Many farmers who have their property in land use taxation will actually see their taxes decrease significantly. Why - because agricultural and forestry lands are taxed on the land use value rather than the assessed value. Land use didn't change. Good for them -  perhaps that will help preserve our farmland and open spaces.
Meanwhile, up the road in Harrisonburg, assessments are up 7.7%. Hey, weren't Augusta's up 28% or something like that? Yep, but this is apples and oranges... and figs, and grapes, and raspberries. How so?
Well, first of all Harrisonburg reassesses annually while Augusta is on a 4-year cycle. In short, Harrisonburg saw these increases in a year when the real estate market melted down! Most of the Augusta increases occurred in the first three years. Other differences - Harrisonburg's increases were driven by commercial property while the biggest uproar in Augusta was over agricultural land of which there is little in the city; some in Augusta never fully understood the land use part of the equation. The increases for homes in Harrisonburg generally ranged between 1% and 5%, but again that was in one year (a down year at that), not four.
So, even considering the apples and oranges and the figs and grapes... it seems to me that Augusta's reassessments were pretty much in line with actual values. Were there mistakes - sure; many of them. Remember this is a mass assessment for which the county paid about $15 per parcel - in short, it is a drive-by assessment. There was an appeals process (nearly everyone I've talked to who availed themselves of this opportunity got some relief) and there is an ongoing Board of Equalization.
What about raspberries? The raspberries are for the rude and mean-spirited #^$%*@&! who shouted at and badgered the supervisors. The most rotten raspberries are reserved for the self-serving Francis Chester and all who encouraged this demeaning of our government by the people for their own narrow purposes.

1 comment:

Clifford Garstang said...

A very thoughtful analysis, this. Let me add, also, that the mob wanted the BOS to ignore the law. Even when advised that there were penalties for breaking the law, the mob insisted that the law should be broken because the penalties--according to Chester, anyway--were modest. Since when, though, should the amount of the penalty be the deciding factor as to whether government officials follow the law or not? Given that the law had an appeals process in place to deal with errors in the mass appraisal, and given that the law specified what the supervisors were required to do, I have no sympathy with the mob. If the law were unjust (see Martin Luther King, Jr.'s writings for the definition, folks), that would be a different story. But as you've demonstrated, it turns out it apparently has worked pretty fairly.