Photo by Bulletin graphics
Photo by George Lauby
The door to the Lincoln County Assessor's office.
A steady procession of protestors are arriving this month at the Lincoln County Assessor's office.
They wonder what is going on with their tax valuations. Why have they increased sharply?
Hundreds, if not thousands, of residential valuations in North Platte jumped 20-30 percent, even as much as 50 percent, according to several homeowners who contacted the Bulletin.
The situation is much the same for agricultural land. Across Lincoln County, ag land values have increased an average of 24 percent.
A total of 3,000 residential values increased, along with those of 6,000 agricultural parcels, Lincoln County Assessor Julie Stenger said.
Property owners can ask questions and file an official protest, if they act by June 30. If they protest, their situation is reviewed by as many as three local entities, starting with the assessor.
As of June 11, less than two weeks after the valuation notices were mailed, 130 property owners had appealed the valuation. That represents a higher pace than recent years, Lincoln County Clerk Becky Rossell said.
Appeals can be filed with tax referee Marcia Trego, or with the Lincoln County Commissioners, who convene as the county board of tax equalization.
The first step is to review the assessor’s data on the property – such things as square footage, number of bathrooms, and if the basement is finished or not. The taxable valuation is based on that data.
Stenger said property owners are welcome to review that information anytime during business hours – 9-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The assessor’s office is near the east end of the courthouse.
It’s possible some of that data is incorrect, she said.
“When we do a mass appraisal, some valuations are too high or too low,” Stenger said. “If you think you couldn’t sell your home for that price, come and make sure we have the correct data.”
Residential valuations are based not only on the location, size and condition of the house and yard, but also on the price of building materials in 2012, as well as sales of comparable places, Stenger said.
The state of Nebraska requires the assessor to keep residential tax valuations at or near the market value – within 92-100% of the price it should sell for.
Stenger also said the great recession of 2008-09, when home prices crashed all over the nation, was not severe in Lincoln County. Property prices basically remained steady during the worst year, she said.
Another 8,000 residential properties will be revalued next year, she said.
The 3,000 residential valuations had not been updated since 2005, Stenger said.
She said some backlog occurred in the last two years, heightening the sticker shock of property owners when they recieved their new, higher valuation notice. The normal challenge of reappraising thousands of parcels of property was compounded by computer issues that delayed the process. A software program called Orion caused some trouble in the last two years, but the system is running fine now, Stenger said.
Agland values are updated every year, based on sale prices of the three previous years.
Land prices have been skyrocketing.
Nebraska's agricultural real estate values jumped 31 percent in 2011, the largest increase in modern times, according to a University of Nebraska study. Since then, prices have increased by another 30 percent, according to NU.
The 2013 all-land average value was $3,000 an acre -- more than double the value in early 2010, the NU study said.
Those sharp valuation increases will eventually boost the coffers of local government -- schools, city, villages and the county.
The increases also raise the ire of taxpayers, who suspect they are being manipulated by the powers that be, and/or bring back memories of expenditures that they opposed.
For instance, John Winchell of North Platte, whose valuation increased by $11,000, casts a skeptical eye on the city’s quality growth fund -- a slice of sales tax income that is set aside to entice developers.
“The amount in the quality growth fund looks a lot like the amount the recent city audit shows we should have in cash reserves in the city budget,” Winchell noted.
“I like North Platte,” he said. “My folks and grandkids live here.”
But, taxes are too high, he said.
First published in the Bulletin's June 11 print edition.