The Conservative Coalition of Upshur County sponsored the more than hour-long question-and-answer event at the First United Methodist Church.
Mrs. Curtis said that as of Thursday night, only 67 protests of proposed valuations have been filed so far this year, and that fewer than 60 persons have come in to the Upshur County Appraisal District office to discuss the matter. She said the district faced “hundreds more” protests in prior years.
Notices of proposed valuations were recently mailed. Mrs. Curtis told the audience that if they received no notice, “your values probably haven’t gone up.”
She said the county has 28,000 parcels of property and that the district had mailed 7,000 notices. She also noted the district adjusts land values annually, based on sales information it receives.
If someone wants to protest a valuation, she said, they need to provide a “sale price if it’s a pretty recent sale”; information from realtors on sales in the area, which “I can’t get”; and information on the property’s distinguishing features, such as a structural problem.
“You don’t even have to make an appointment. We’re there. I’m there,” Mrs. Curtis said. She said 75 percent of complaints are resolved without having to go to the district’s Appraisal Review Board.
She also said the State Comptroller’s office has a website on how homeowners and small business owners can protest valuations. In addition, Mrs. Curtis agreed with one audience member’s assertion that taxpayers should go in to the appraisal district’s office yearly and ask for a copy of their appraisal card even if the district says nothing has changed.
Meantime, the chief appraiser said the county’s mineral values have dropped 25 percent in preliminary valuations this time after a 29 percent drop in 2010.
Asked why property values increase annually, Mrs. Curtis replied, “Our values reflect market. . .Our land is valued based on sales.”
“Your value is being set on half of the sales,” she said.
The chief appraiser said taxable homestead values can’t increase by more than 10 percent in one year. She also explained to those over age 65 that while their homestead value is not frozen, “your (school and county) tax amount is frozen” unless they add on to the home.
In addition, she explained that structures depreciate in value, but land doesn’t, and that timber values are based on a 5-year average.
Asked by a representative of The Mirror what was the number one thing people misunderstand about the district, she said, “Nobody understands homestead caps.”
She said that if the home’s overall value rises by 30 percent, its taxable value only goes up 10.
She also said the district requests information on sales, but gets only 40 percent of sales information. “The buyers and the sellers send them (the prices in sales) to me,” Mrs. Curtis explained.
Asked by a citizen, L.E. Rinehart, “Do you average them?,” Mrs. Curtis responded, “We take the middle, that’s right.”
“To value land, I take all of the sales that I can gather. . .I use the sales in that area,” she said. “I have to use the median level of sale.”
“I have to treat everybody equally. That’s why I’m the bad guy,” Mrs. Curtis said with a grin.
The appraiser also said “classes of houses are opinions” based on information the district has, and that “we have a lot” of classes. In reponse to a question from a citizen, H.M. (Butch) Ragland, she said painting or landscaping a home wouldn’t raise its valuation.
“We want fair and equal” valuations, she said. “We look at our values every year,” but inspect only one third of the county annually, so that in “every three years, every piece of property gets inspected,” Mrs. Curtis explained.
She said law now requires the district to use a “national pricing guide,” and that the district is “very governed” by the state, which doesn’t “give us free rein.”
She explained that the district has a 5-member board of directors chosen by the elected members of the county’s taxing entities (such as school boards, city councils, and the county commissioners court.) That board hires and fires the chief appraiser.
The County Tax Assessor-Collector joins those five as a non-voting board member. She said the board of directors has no control over valuations (protests are heard by the Appraisal Review Board, appointed by the directors).
The speaker also pointed out that the appraisal district has nothing to do with setting tax rates.
Mrs. Curtis also discussed legal qualifications to be an appraiser, and noted she had come here in 2005 after working five years as chief appraiser in Delta County.
“I’m not from here (originally), so I can’t give good old boy deals,” Mrs. Curtis added.
Through much of the session, Mrs. Curtis faced questions from citizens who were clearly upset about valuations. When one woman told her, “You seem unsympathetic,” the chief appraiser interrupted and said, “No, ma’am.”
The woman went on to complain, “I have never seen this many houses for sale in the 30 years I have lived here.”
Mrs. Curtis replied, “I think the misunderstanding is, we are charged by law” to reflect market value. She said the national cost guide the district must use is adjusted for this area.
“It’s not my job to raise the value because the school needs more money--period,” Mrs. Curtis added.
Replying to a question from Pct. 2 County Comm. Cole Hefner, she said citizens should petition the legislature if they want something changed about the valuation process.
One man asked what the case was if a home’s value rose from $80,000 up to $100,000 in one year. Mrs. Curtis replied, “You need to talk to the appraiser who did it,” and that the appraiser would tell him they “equalized” the value of his home to others in the area.
Rinehart complained that he once went to the district office and that an appraiser called up a house twice as big as his on a computer, but valued at less than his. He said the appraiser told him, “The bigger they are, the less they cost.”
Replied Mrs. Curtis, “I bet she’s not there any more.”