News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 17, 2013

Hundreds of 2012 assessment appeals remain outstanding

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Kenny Vermillion lives in a scenic part of eastern Vigo County — but also far from many of the conveniences of the city.

In early 2012, he appealed the county’s assessment of his property, saying it was too high. Now, more than a year later, that appeal remains outstanding.

“I ran out of patience,” Vermillion said, explaining why he contacted the Tribune-Star. County officials “don’t even hint at a date” when the appeal might be heard, he said.

Vermillion’s case is not unique. His is one of several hundred appeals from 2012 that remain outstanding, said Debbie Lewis, Vigo County Assessor. In many cases, her small staff is unable to deal with the large volume of appeals in the time they would like, she said.

“I hate it that we’re behind in appeals,” she said, adding that about half of last year’s appeals were processed by her office.

One way to encourage quicker action on an appeal is to provide information supporting why you believe the original assessment is wrong, Lewis said. That can be comparable sales data, a legitimate appraisal or other information.

“Provide as much information as you can,” she said.

In about two-thirds of cases, appeals simply state that someone feels an assessment is “too high,” Lewis said, without supporting documentation. That doesn’t give the assessor’s office much to work with, she said.

In some cases, people also file appeals if they believe an assessed value is only off by a small percentage. One appeal recently filed with the Assessor’s office asked for an adjustment of $400 on a $175,000 piece of property.

So far in 2013, about 700 appeals have been filed in Vigo County, Lewis said.

Filing an appeal is free, which may help account for the large number. In about a third of the cases, those appealing fail to show up for their hearings with the property tax assessment board of appeals, Lewis said.

In Vermillion’s case, he felt his assessed value increased too much, too quickly. His property assessment jumped to more than $104,000 in 2011 from just $93,500 the year before, he said.

“That’s what got my attention,” Vermillion said of the nearly $10,000 increase. “I felt that was unfair.”

In a letter that accompanied his appeal, Vermillion stated he believes his property assessment is incorrect because he said it is based – in part – on recent home sales from Idle Creek and Lakewood subdivisions – neighborhoods with much newer homes than his.

“This place doesn’t compare to Idle Creek,” Vermillion said of his rural setting not far from Interstate 70.

Indiana property tax assessments are based on “market value,” meaning assessed values are predictions of what a piece of property will bring in a genuine market transaction (as opposed to a sale to a relative or a foreclosure), said Larry DeBoer, a local government finance expert at Purdue University.

“If that value is within about 10 percent of what you know you could sell your house for, then we consider it to be pretty accurate,” DeBoer told the Tribune-Star. The county uses “mass appraisals,” meaning it does not send an appraiser to every piece of property, he noted.

“You can ask yourself, ‘Would I take a price like that if I were to sell?’” DeBoer said. If not, the assessment is probably too low. Or you could ask yourself, “do you think anyone would ever offer such a price for your property? If the answer is ‘yes,’ maybe you’re assessed correctly. If the answer is ‘no,’ maybe you’re assessed too high.”

DeBoer also recommends providing as much evidence as possible to support an appeal.

Assessments can also be appealed if they include factual errors. In some cases, assessors may have missed a garage or outbuilding, Lewis noted.

The last day to file a property tax appeal in Vigo County is Tuesday by 4 p.m. Appeals can be filed at the county Assessor’s office in the Vigo County Annex at 189 Oak St.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com