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Review of tax card could reduce payment

Does your property tax statement have you saying bah, humbug? Well, if your property taxes increased, it could be to your advantage to do some investigating as to why, especially now that the state is having property assessed at ‘fair market value.’ If you find that you want to make an appeal, the deadline is Dec. 15.
‘It’s not a bad idea to pull your tax card and go over it with the township assessor,’ said Bob Redden of Corydon, a broker associate for Re/Max Advantage in Floyds Knobs.
A copy of a tax rate card ‘ yours or anyone else’s, since the information is public record ‘ can be obtained several ways, including making a trip to the Harrison County Court House, calling the county assessor’s office or even online. (Ralph Schoen, who works in the county Auditor’s Office, said updates to records are current.)
And while it may look complicated, there are certain aspects of the card that are easy to check that could have a bearing on how much you owe in property taxes. Those items include the township where the property is located (each township’s tax rate is different; even the Town of Corydon is different than the rest of Harrison Township’s), the acreage and the physical characteristics of any dwellings on the property. Check the square footage, including any attached porches or decks, the exterior finish, roofing material, number of rooms and details like whether the structure has central air or a fireplace.
You should also let your township trustee/assessor know when something, such as an outbuilding or deck, has been removed from your property also. Then, you are not being taxed for something you no longer have.
‘It’s very important to check on this stuff,’ Redden said. ‘Assessors are rarely in someone’s home to know exactly what they have.’
Vickie Kitterman, broker/owner of Century 21 Champion in Corydon, said she is seeing ‘some dramatic issues with values’ of property. One example she gave was homes that have finished basements.
‘The main floor of a home is more valuable than a finished basement,’ she said, but the property owner is having both floors taxed at the same rate.
Any difference from what you have and what is listed is probably what would be called an ‘error’ and can be remedied at any time. Harrison County Assessor Lorena Stepro said errors can be fixed for past tax billings, which could result in a refund. Property owners who believe there is an error on their tax card should contact their township trustee/assessor who will meet with them to re-evaluate the information.
Stepro cautioned that some property owners still may see an increase because of errors that currently work in their favor, such as someone who added a swimming pool without getting a permit. (Improvements to property require permits from the county planning and zoning office. That information is then passed on to the assessor’s office for refiguring the owner’s property tax. Fines can be assessed for persons who fail to obtain the required permit.)
Another factor that could make a difference in what you thought you would owe in property taxes and what you were billed is your credits. These can be found on your real property tax statement, you know, the piece of paper most property owners received in the mail a few weeks ago. There are about two dozen different exemptions available, but property owners must decide which ones to use, usually selecting the ones that give them the biggest credits. Exemption filings are done at the county Auditor’s Office. (Don’t forget to re-file for exemptions if you refinance your home, or you’ll be hit with a larger tax bill.)
(Persons who have their property tax monies escrowed by their mortgage company may not know yet what their property tax payment was this year, or how their mortgage company will adjust their payment for 2008. Property owners who escrow should get a copy of their tax statement and rate card and verify the information.)
But what most property owners who have seen a large increase in their tax bills are concerned with isn’t as easily detected.
Determining the amount of property taxes due is ‘a very complicated process,’ Redden said.
This is where the aid of a real estate broker could be beneficial.
‘We can do a real estate assessment on their home,’ Redden said, ‘and see how it compares to other homes in their area.’
While most brokers will accept walk-ins for consultations, they recommend calling ahead for an appointment.
‘The main thing is to understand that there is a deadline,’ Kitterman said. ‘There’s paperwork to be done.’
Property owners who dispute the fair market value will have to have evidence to support their case.
Stepro said employees of The Nexus Group, the firm hired to help with the appeals process, should begin meeting next month with persons who file an appeal.
Kitterman said the whole property tax scenario needs repair, what with investment property owners and business owners paying ‘heavy’ amount of taxes.
‘They’ve not come up with anything that’s fair,’ she said. ‘There is no easy fix.’
Now that Indiana has assessed property at ‘fair market value,’ Redden said he wonders when the state will be collecting property taxes on a current-year basis rather than a year in arrears. The Hoosier state is one of just a few states that still bills property owners for the previous year instead of the current year.
‘I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop,’ he said.