Property owners calling in to protest tax increases
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the second year in a row, Joe Lefevre is seeing taxes on his West Side home go up.
Lefevre, 63, has lived in his home just off Edgewood Drive for most of his life. Last year, his property taxes went up by about 83 percent. This year, the increase is about 18 percent.
The home, which he bought from his parents for $30,000 in 2007, was built in the late 1920s or early 1930s. He said he's received two offers for the property for about that price.
The assessor appraised his property at $55,000 this year.
Because properties are assessed at 60 percent of the appraised value, Lefevre's property was assessed at $33,000 this year, he said. He'll pay about $450 in taxes, an increase of about $50 over last year.
He isn't filing a complaint. It would cost him about $500 to have a private appraiser review the matter.
"I can't spend $500 to save $50," he said. "It's like you're guilty until proven innocent."
Field appraisers for the county Assessor's Office review pieces of property in a given area once every three years, said Steve Sluss, attorney for the office.
However, the appraiser will return to the home before the three-year cycle has run its course if a large number of properties are sold in that area.
"That's the way the law is written," he said.
The Kanawha County Commission, which will convene for the first day of the annual Board of Review and Equalization at 5 p.m. today, has received no formal hearing requests over property tax increases.
But several complaints have been called in.
A total of 27,697 property owners received notification that their property tax assessments increased by 10 percent or more this year. That number is up from the 21,141 notices in 2012.
Areas reappraised this year included much of the eastern part of the county, Kanawha City and parts of South Hills. Targeted next year are Dunbar, St. Albans and other areas in the western part of the county.
Commissioners can overturn a property assessment if they find that the assessor erred, Commission President Kent Carper said.
However, state law requires them to assume the property assessment is correct unless they are provided "evidence that is clearly convincing," Carper said.
"We're not allowed to look at the taxpayer's ability to pay," Carper said. "We're not allowed to look at the hardship on the taxpayer.
"That's in state law."
Carper said he would objectively review any evidence presented by the taxpayer.
At least one commissioner is upset about the increases.
Commissioner Hoppy Shores plans to study each challenge with a critical eye, he said.
"I'm against any increase in taxes," he said.
Shores finds it hard to believe that so many properties saw a 10 percent or more increase in assessments when property values for houses being sold remains the same or is decreasing.
"I just don't see values going up like this in Kanawha County," Shores said.
Shores is receiving numerous calls from residents who are upset about their property tax increases, he said. Owners are saying they cannot sell their property for the appraisal amount calculated by the assessor.
When asked why the commission had not yet received any applications for hearings, Shores said it might be too early in the process.
He foresees a sharp increase in the number of hearings this year.
"I think this February is going to be busy for us when we sit as the Board of Equalization and Review," he said.
Assessor Sallie Robinson said her staff would discuss assessments with any property owner wishing to do so.
Her office also has received numerous calls from upset taxpayers, she said. Many have come to her office to discuss the formulas used to appraise a piece of property.
Sluss said, "A lot of the time it's just about getting with the taxpayer and showing them our records. They're often satisfied with that."
State law requires property owners who object to their new figures to meet with the assessor within five days of receiving the notice.
However, Robinson said the assessor's office is always willing to meet with the property owners, even if it is outside that time frame.
Property owners wishing to contest their assessment in front of the Board of Equalization and Review can file the application with the county commission's office beyond five days, Robinson said.
State law requires the assessor's office to appraise property within 10 percent of its fair market value. That number is determined by the sale of comparable houses in the area and other criteria, Sluss said.
The appraisers look at homes and calculate the cost of building the structure if it were to be constructed today. They then depreciate the amount based on age and condition.
The sales criteria for an area are determined by looking at deeds filed at the county courthouse. Those deeds are provided to the state tax commission, which then gives the assessor a list of sales prices for specific types of homes in that region, he said.
The assessor's office has found appraisals to be inaccurate after meeting with property owners in the past, Robinson said.
She recounted a specific case when a property owner questioned an assessment for a "beautiful home on a very flat piece of property," she said.
"I didn't think there was any way we could lower the appraisal," she said. "Then the property owner sent us a photo, and it looked like there was a river running through their front yard."
The water problem resulted in a decrease in the assessment, she said.
Most questions are answered and addressed by the staff and don't end up before the Board of Equalization and Review, Robinson said.
Neither Sluss nor Robinson believe there will be a large number of requests for hearings before the commission.
Anyone wishing to schedule a meeting with the assessor to discuss property taxes should call 304-357-0250.
Those wishing to apply for a hearing before the Board of Equalization and Review should contact the Kanawha County Commission at 304-357-0101.
The board will meet starting at 5 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday from today through Feb. 26.