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Commissioners seek to ‘fix’
 reassessment laws

Richard Fulton

(11/21) The Adams County Board of Commissioners have proposed overhauling the county reassessment system to reform the process, eliminating "fantasy" evaluations, such as calling a swamp a development site, and to remove politics as an influential factor.

The now-infamous 2010 county real estate reassessment left a bad taste in the mouths of many for the existing real estate assessment process.

While the reassessment process was created to determine the current, actual value of real estate for the purpose of taxation, the 2010 assessment became a classic example of a process gone awry.

In some cases, undevelopable wetlands, lots too small for anything other than harvesting timber, and plots that couldn’t support a well or septic system, were reclassified and taxed as developable tracts of land.

Among the municipalities covered by the News-Journal, Carroll Valley property owners were especially slammed with seemingly illogical evaluations because of the varied types of terrain (from wetlands to mountainsides) represented within the nearly six-square mile municipality.

The process prompted a tsunami of appeals, lawsuits, and a vow by incoming county commissioners to find a means to avoid a similar fiasco in the future.

The "fix" has been introduced as county Ordinance #3 of 2013, and in the process of its probable adoption, it will scrap, through repeal, the existing ordinances that set the stage for the much-despised 2010 reassessment.

County Commissioner Marty Qually told the News Journal the new ordinance (which the board will consider adopting beginning in November) creates a two-step process regarding the initiation of a reassessment.

The ordinance would provide a means of determining current real estate market tends through the application of a formula, called the Coefficient of Dispersion (COC), which could then serve as a "trigger" that tells the task force it needs to recommend to the county that it should consider implementing either a "statistical" assessment (an in-house review) or a "full" assessment (involving "boots on the ground), depending on what the COC numbers suggest.

The results of the 2010 reassessment, Qually stated, took place after a period of 16 years (some counties did theirs after a lapse of 20 to 30 years) because the decision to conduct a reassessment often became a can kicked-down-the-road because some board of commissioner candidates facing election or reelection didn’t want to be the ones initiating one.

Although the new ordinance doesn’t not eliminate the power that the board of commissioners can initiate a reassessment at any time it chooses, Qually said the ordinance does eliminate "political considerations" regarding the timing of the reassessment by making the process more process-driven than election-driven.

The multi-decade timeframe between reassessments, he said, also contributed to aberrations in the 2010 reassessment because it involved comparing the extremes, the real estate market 20 to 30 years ago and the existing market, and didn’t take into consideration fluctuations that occurred in between.

"You can’t go 20 or 30 years and then do a reassessment," Qually stated. "It makes it so your extremes are far apart," producing questionable results regarding the value of property in the county."

Proposed Ordinance #3 of 2013 can be viewed on the county web site at www.adamscounty.us

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