It’s that time of year when Santa gives and the tax collector takes away, but a Lincolnville homeowner claims her property tax assessment is nearly double what it should be.
Donna Wharton, along with two brothers, owns a two-bedroom bungalow at 210 1st St. where her 90-year-old mother, Almeda Kahns, lives.
Wharton, who lives in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, moved out of the house in 1978. Kahns has been living there for more than 30 years and has always paid the bills, including property taxes.
Wharton has been back in Lincolnville helping her mother with her financial affairs. In September, she came across the tax bill for the 1,268-square-foot house: $1,111.26.
“My brother, who used to live next door, he said, ‘That’s way too much in taxes,’” she said.
Wharton went online to research how similar houses compared to the $50,100 appraisal on her house, and said most others were nearly half that.
A review of appraised values by this newspaper of 2-bedroom bungalows in Lincolnville listed in county records found the average valuation to be just under $28,000.
The closest in value to Wharton’s house was one at 607 Newton St. appraised at $54,300, and had a tax bill of $1,208.06, but it is about 500 square feet bigger, has two more rooms, and a 520-square-foot detached garage.
“We could probably get $48,000 t0 $50,000 if we could pick it up and put it on a lot in Marion,” Wharton said.
A more reasonable comparison, Wharton said, was a house at 511 Topeka St.
“That house just sold for $20,000; it’s on the tax rolls for $28,000,” she said.
When Wharton met with assessor Brian Frese to review her concerns, she learned that her house had been compared to houses in Marion when the appraisal was set.
“They used everything in Marion as a comp,” she said. “That’s like comparing Marion to Newton or Wichita.”
Frese said the computer program the appraiser’s office uses to determine appraised value uses sales of five comparable properties within four years as part of its calculations. If, for example, Lincolnville doesn’t have five such sales, the program broadens the search area.
“The number of sales in smaller towns may be minimal, depending on what’s selling and how it compared to the subject property,” he said. “The more you have, the better group you’ll have to work with.”
Location isn’t the only factor used to determine appraised values.
“The computer is looking at a lot more factors than just a city,” Frese said. “There’s also year built, square footage, and size. It’s looking for the most comparable homes based on the characteristics of the subject home.”
A formal appeal requires that a payment under protest form be filed when either first half or second half taxes are paid. Once a year’s tax bill is paid, the valuation cannot be appealed for that year, Frese said.
Wharton said that the process was easy and that Frese was responsive to her concerns. The following day he sent two field investigators out to get a first-hand look at the property.
“A lot of times we’re not going to catch everything,” Frese said. “We look at everything on paper every year, and then we re-inspect on about a six-year cycle, unless there’s a sale or a bulding permit or a taxpayer request. There were some interior issues they wanted us to be aware of.”
Wharton said that the research and appeal process was easy, and that in particular she wanted elderly homeowners to know that.
“In these smaller communities there are a lot of older people that don’t know,” she said. “They have a form you fill out and attach it to your tax bill when you go in to pay. Fill out information on the house, what you think it’s worth, and turn it in. He’ll set up a meeting if you want to go in.”
Frese noted that his office determines the appraised value of a property, which is the starting point for calculating a tax bill, but the bills come from the treasurer’s office.
Wharton said she was optimistic her tax bill will be reduced, but offered an alternative if it isn’t.
“We told everybody in the assessor’s office, ‘You write me a check for $50,000 and it’s yours,’” she said.