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Assessment appeals flowing in to Davison County

Cindy Novachich was surprised to learn how much Davison County thought her home was worth.

"I didn't realize when I bought the house how high it would be assessed at," Novachich said in a recent interview with The Daily Republic. "I didn't see it coming."

Novachich's home, located at 609 E. First Ave. in Mitchell, was valued within the last few years at approximately $28,000 and $32,000 by two independent appraisers.

But, for tax purposes, Davison County values the property at $66,250 -- $59,560 for the home and $6,690 for the land. That's more than twice the value determined by either independent appraiser. At that level, Novachich's tax bill totaled $1,124.94.

"I don't know how it ever got up to that level," Novachich said.

Novachich, who was mailed a notice of the assessment last month, isn't alone in thinking the assessed value of her home was too high.

As of Monday afternoon, 34 appeals of assessments, including one from Novachich, have been filed this year, according to records at the Davison County Auditor's Office. When a person files an appeal of an assessment, they're objecting to the amount the county deemed their property to be worth. A property's assessed value is what is used to determine property tax rates.

Anyone living in a township in Davison County, with the exception of Mitchell Township residents, had until Thursday to file an appeal. Those appeals, heard by local township boards, started Monday.

Anyone living in the city of Mitchell, Mitchell Township, Ethan, or Mount Vernon has until April 1 to file an appeal. Those will be heard by a consolidated board of city and county officials sometime on or after April 8, but specific dates have not been set.

When Davison County Director of Equalization Kathy Goetsch was appointed in 2006, she was met with an immense backlog of property assessments.

County assessors hadn't gotten around to re-assessing a vast number of commercial and residential properties for the last two or three decades, Goetsch said.

"I don't know why it wasn't done," she said. "I know the office was always short of staff, but the job has to get done."

The Davison County Department of Equalization, which handles property assessments for the county, reviewed Novachich's property earlier this month after Novachich sent a letter saying she felt her assessment was too high. After the review, Novachich's assessment was reduced to $30,625 -- less than half the original total.

Goetsch and her staff, which includes three full-time assessors plus Goetsch herself, have been methodically working through the backlog of assessments.

In 2011, owners of commercial properties in Davison County were hit by the first wave of re-assessments and appealed in droves, after the value of some properties increased as much as 500 percent or more.

Many residential property owners are now seeing similar increases in their assessments this year because most hadn't been re-assessed since the late 1980s.

"It's just been too long since they were looked at," Goetsch said.

In many cases, Goetsch said houses have been upgraded or renovated in the years -- or, in many cases, decades -- since they were last appraised, which may account for many of the increases.

"Usually, that's the culprit," she said. "There has been a change to the property."

Changes in assessments have varied greatly for residential properties, Goetsch said, and a small minority of property owners even saw their assessments decrease.

Goetsch and her staff have re-assessed about 3,500 residential properties since they started the process in 2012. Ideally, all properties should be re-assessed every six to eight years, Goetsch said.

It will more than likely be at least two more years before all the residential properties in Mitchell have been re-assessed, Goetsch said. After that, the re-assessment process will begin again with rural properties.

The value of residential properties within the city of Mitchell that haven't already been reassessed will go up 6 percent this year based on sales ratio studies of market values, according to Goetsch.

The amount taxing entities, such as cities, counties and school districts, may budget each year can't go up more than an area's increase as a result of growth, plus the amount of the Consumer Price Index or 3 percent, whichever is less.

There is no limit, however, on the amount a valuation may increase due to a reappraisal.

"It's been really tough," Goetsch said. "We've had to increase values so much, so abruptly."

Once the enormous backlog of re-assessments is finished, Goetsch said she hopes future assessments will be completed on a seven-year rotation.

"Getting a jolt every few years -- I don't like to do that to people," she said.

In the end, Goetsch said, having up-to-date property values ensures everyone is paying their fair share of taxes.

"When somebody isn't paying on one end, somebody else is," Goetsch said.