By Tim Cox
Property values in Mercer County are going up an average of 14 percent as a result of the six-year countywide reappraisal that was recently completed.
Prime real estate, including lakefront lots, is rising at a faster rate and some values have increased 30 percent or more since the last reappraisal. On the other hand, some properties have lost value.
The 14 percent increase is the lowest in recent memory, county Auditor Mark Giesige said. Property values shot up 24 percent in 1993 and 27 percent in 1999.
The modest increase is good news for those who don't want a bigger property tax bill, but bad news for those looking to build equity in investment properties.
The reappraisal of the county's 24,331 parcels cost about $365,000 over the past two-plus years. The mass appraisal is based largely on sales but includes other factors too. All property in Mercer County combined is valued at $2.8 billion. Taxes are paid based on 35 percent of market value. "Sales are what drives the reappraisal. We do not set the market values," Giesige said.
Property owners should receive letters this week detailing the reappraisal process. The letter lists each property's new market value, but does not inform owners how much their tax bills will increase or decrease. Tax amounts will not be set until after the state releases tax reduction factors, and county officials can prepare the bills.
In most cases, taxes will not rise by the same percentage as the property value increased. An owner of a home that went up 14 percent in market value might only pay 5 percent or so more in taxes, Giesige said.
First half property tax payments for 2006 are due to the Mercer County Treasurer's office in February. Bills will be mailed out in mid-January.
The reappraisal letter should give property owners some idea of what to expect when they get their tax bills.
Overall, about 39 percent of property owners will see increases of 10 percent or less in their market values. About 40 percent will see values increase by more than 10 percent and 15 percent of property owners will see their appraised values reduced.
Giesige said his staff and contracted appraisers strived to come up with accurate values for all properties. The appraisers could have simply come up with a flat rate increase that would have applied to all land. While that approach is politically expedient, it does not fairly reflect the true value of all properties, Giesige said.
"I want to make sure we have assessment uniformity," Giesige said.
Property owners can argue their assessed values are too high or too low. Obvious errors can be corrected by the auditor's office. Other disagreements can be argued to the county Board of Revision or Common Pleas Court.
The reappraisal process causes headaches for some property owners. People who have built a home or made significant improvements to a property that has not yet been added to the tax rolls can be socked with huge tax bills dating back to when the improvements were made. A handful of those cases generally come up during reappraisal, Giesige said.
Also, some lakefront property owners are being squeezed out of the market because they cannot afford the annual taxes. Some people who have lived lakeside for many years now find they cannot afford the taxes on their properties that have doubled or tripled in value in the last decade or so.
"It can price people out of the market," Giesige said, noting that more and more lakefront property is owned by people living outside the area.