Some Beaufort County landowners see decreased property value, more taxes

dburley@islandpacket.comDecember 7, 2013 

  • How to appeal

    Owners who want to appeal their property's tax valuation must notify the Beaufort County Assessor's Office before Wednesday.

    To notify the office, owners must fill out an appeal form to request a meeting with the assessor's staff. The form can be downloaded from bcgov.net and faxed to 843-255-9404, emailed to assessor@bcgov.net or delivered to the assessor's Beaufort office at room 210, county administration building, 100 Ribaut Road, Beaufort.

    If the issue is not resolved after that meeting, property owners may continue their appeal with a formal notice outlining their objections. Those may also be hand-delivered, mailed, faxed or emailed to the assessor.

    If the issue remains unresolved after those two exchanges, appeals are forwarded to the Tax Equalization Board.

    For more details, go to the assessor's Web page at bcgov.net.

As Wednesday's deadline to file property-tax appeals approaches, some Beaufort County homeowners are questioning appraisals that left them with sharp increases in taxes, even as their properties' value dropped.

For some, tax bills jumped 20 to 30 percent in spite of a countywide reassessment revealing, for the first time, a general decrease in county property values.

The unlucky segment pays more in taxes for less valuable land -- a "quizzical" conundrum, according to County Assessor Ed Hughes.

"In most cases the concept of value going down and taxes going down are directly associated with each other," Hughes said.

But this year, the Beaufort County Council increased the tax rate to offset the drop in property values. The goal was to keep tax revenue neutral, as required by law, according to a state Attorney General's Office opinion.

The Assessor's Office hasn't fully analyzed reassessment data to know how many homeowners face this scenario, Hughes said.

Beaufort County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville called it "an anomaly."

"But there's a reason someone's taxes went up," he said. "If someone just looks at their tax bill and sees their taxes go up, they're angry. Hopefully, they look at the elements that made it so."

The scenario stems from a state law that protects homeowners from steep tax increases when property values rise dramatically, capping the increase in taxable value from one reassessment to the next at 15 percent if the property has not changed hands.

Nearly 91 percent of properties were protected by that cap in 2009's reassessment, when the housing boom had values soaring. This year, only 9 percent of properties hit the cap, Hughes said.

But the state law was designed as a "ceiling" during periods of escalating prices and doesn't set a "floor" to stymie declining values, Hughes said.

Hughes said that in most cases, if a property's taxable value decreased by more than 13 percent from the previous reassessment, the owner could expect a tax decline.

But for some, such as Lady's Island resident Ann Ubelis, property values did not decrease enough to avoid a tax hike.

After the 2009 reassessment, the county set the taxable value of her home at $206,000, but protected her with a capped value of $147,000. That left her annual tax bill at $500, according to county property records.

But this year, though her home dropped to about $162,000 in appraised value, she's without the relief of the cap and paying roughly $200 more annually in property taxes.

"It's a kick in the gut, especially around the holidays," she said. "Here I thought I had myself budgeted, and now I have to figure out what I'm going to give up.

"If this happened to me on a tiny piece of property, imagine someone with much more land at much higher value," she added.

Ubelis has filed an appeal, one of nearly 4,500 collected by the Assessor's Office since property value notices went out in mid-September.

Hughes expects 1,500 more by the Wednesday deadline, far fewer than the 15,000 appeals filed last reassessment, he said.

Carl Joye, a real estate agent in Beaufort, said the lack of appeals reflects the county's success in appraising property in relation to market value.

"They are a lot closer than they used to be, that's for sure," he said. "But, obviously, everyone isn't going to be happy, and everything is not going to be right."

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

Related content:

Property values decrease across Beaufort County for first time-- Sept. 29, 2013

Beaufort County still faces backlog of tax appeals-- Sept. 1, 2013 Tax appeals to resume in Beaufort County after months-long break-- Oct. 1, 2013

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