Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Assessor answers tough questions

by Lisa Seiser

August 04, 2011

As of Tuesday, there were still plenty of appointments available for open book meetings Wednesday and today with the city's assessing firm.

But, according to city officials, the assessors and local residents, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of questions about property owners' reassessments, which were received in the mail about two weeks ago.

On Monday night during the city's Committee of the Whole meeting, Accurate Appraisals co-owner Lee De Groot was in attendance to explain the 8.06 percent property assessment increase in the city.

De Groot said residential sales in 2010 showed Lake Geneva properties were underassessed.

He said there were 65 residential sales in 2010 and the ratio was at 91 or 92 percent, when looking at the assessed value compared to the sale prices. The reason for a revaluation in a city is to get that ratio to 100 percent.

"The sales for 2010 were showing values higher than the assessments," he said.

The last time the city was revalued was six years ago, in 2005. Since that time, property values have increased and then dropped back down, but not to the levels they were when the last assessment occurred.

De Groot said many of the questions they are receiving is "why the increase in a down market."

Accurate Appraisals uses sales analysis to determine assessments for most properties. De Groot said his firm performed a "book revaluation." Only properties that had building permit improvements were inspected.

"We didn't do walk throughs," he said about every property in the city.

He said there may be people who have reasons why they think their property is worth less than it is assessed at. De Groot said that's what open book is for and if the property owner is not satisfied, that is why there is a Board of Review.

Roger Wolff of Keefe Real Estate confirmed the ups and downs of the market with numbers he collected and reported to the Committee of the Whole Monday night.

In 2008, he said there were 52 single family sales and the average price was $210,000. He said that dropped to $176,000 based on 48 sales in 2009, but then rose again with 59 sales in 2010 to $195,000.

De Groot said in 2007 and 2008, the city's assessed values were listed well below market value at about 85 percent.

He said commercial market values have been well above assessed values in the city.

But he reminded property owners that assessment increases don't necessarily mean there will be tax increases.

"We are not increasing taxes," De Groot said about what the assessor does. "In order to find out, you need to see of your burden changed. If your assessment went up about 8 percent, your burden is the same. But that is a fear people have."

Wolff was complimentary of Accurate Appraisals, stating he received several calls from lakefront owners asking questions about assessments. He also said assessments he saw ranged in increases from 8 to 43 percent.

"They are very professional and they will listen," Wolff said of Accurate Appraisals.

Property owners wishing to contest their assessments should contact Accurate Appraisals to meet individually with the appraisers during the open book process Thursday, Aug. 4 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m. Property owners can make online appointments.

Last week, co-owner of Accurate appraisals, Jim Danielson said open book is when information is provided to show the property owners about how their assessment was figured. He said that is the best time to discuss an assessment issue.

If, after the open book, a property owner still objects to the assessment, an "objection" form must be filed with the City Clerk before the Board of Review, which will meet on Aug. 24 from 9 to 11 a.m. Appearances at the Board of Review are by appointment only and function like a court, requiring evaluation of evidence based on facts. A property owner must provide factual information showing the property is incorrectly assessed.

De Groot said he believes the assessment ratio is now at 100 percent or as close as possible. According to an information sheet provided by the city, the residential assessment ratio to market value in 2010 was 95.86 percent and it is now estimated to be 99.41 following the revaluation. Commercial assessment ratios were much more extreme. The ratio for 2010 was 84.56 of market value and is now estimated to be 96.66 percent.

The overall residential assessment of the city is $857 million, up from $798 million. That is a 7.34 percent increase. Split up, residential land assessment went up 11.4 percent to $327.5 million, while improvements were up 4.97 percent to $529.5 million.

Commercial property assessments rose 9.74 percent from $342.7 million, to $376 million. Commercial land was up less than 1 percent, but improvements made were up 12.76 percent to a total of $288.8 million.