Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Editorial: Fix the glitch and move on
Some property prices on Roanoke County's website are wrong, but not as a result of wrongdoing.
From the RoundTable blog
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The Virginia Department of Taxation found that nothing is rotten in Roanoke County's real estate valuation office.
While some property sales prices displayed on the county's GIS website are higher than the actual sales prices, the inaccuracies have not inflated real estate tax reassessments. In fact, a state review team found recent assessment levels lower than fair market value; in some years, below the 90 percent standard set by the International Association of Assessing Officers.
That should put to rest questions real estate agents and others raised when they noticed the discrepancy. And it should calm the fears of some of the county's supervisors that residents are somehow being cheated by their local government.
Catawba District Supervisor Butch Church, in particular, raised a cry of alarm to taxpayers in rambling, disjointed remarks at the board's May 22 meeting, where he called for an independent investigation of how the discrepancy occurred, why it occurred and what could be done to correct it. He also asserted that the state agency with oversight responsibility would not be independent enough to do the review.
Cooler heads prevailed.
There is no mystery surrounding the bad information given in some instances on the county's geographic information systems mapping website. After the May meeting, county officials explained the problem to reporter Mason Adams, who duly reported:
The county's software picks up the value listed on state deed recordation tax records. The recordation tax is based on the higher of either a property's sales price or its assessed value. Before the housing market softened, properties regularly sold for more than their assessed value. So the GIS map reflected the correct data.
Now, some properties sell for less than assessed value, but the GIS system still picks up the higher figure. In these cases, the sales prices shown on the county site are incorrect.
Does that artificially drive up new assessments, and thus unfairly inflate some property owners' tax bills? No, because the county's assessors are aware of the GIS glitch and did not rely on that data in the reassessment process.
What does the county need to do to fix the glitch? Administrator Clay Goodman said at a news conference last week that officials know how to remedy the problem. They just need approval from the board of supervisors to make the fix.
So the county needs supervisors to show some faith in its professional staff -- faith, as Goodman noted, that is well-warranted.
Property owners who think their reassessments are unfair, though, needn't put their trust in the assessor's office. The county has a board of equalization. Dissatisfied taxpayers can appeal reassessments to that board -- and should if they feel cheated.