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Property Assessments Fall For First Time

Director of Finance Ann Shawver and Roanoke Management and Budget Director Amelia Merchant discuss the impact of assessments on the 2013 budget.

by Valerie Garner

Director of Finance Ann Shawver said it could have been worse. “Unfortunately we have one of the more disappointing reports this year.“ But it was still better then she had expected.

Existing residential property decreased 2.7%, including some positive reassessment of commercial properties, the overall decline was 1.6%. New construction added slightly more to revenue at .41% further lessening the overall impact to -1.19%. The effect on revenue loss comes to over $1 million.

The Code of Virginia requires that all real property be assessed for taxation at 100% of market value. Keeping valuations just under 100% allows for leeway. In 2011 Roanoke City’s assessments pushed 100%. In 2010 it was at a safe 92%. “It tells me we will need to do something,” said Director of Real Estate Valuation Susan Lower.

Real estate assessments peaked in fiscal years 2006-2007 and have dropped each year since.

Lower said 46,000 properties are assessed every year and 11,000 are visited “door to door.” No notices are sent out to properties whose assessment did not change. On Tuesday 18,400 notices were mailed, equating to about half the city this year. The last mass mailing occurred in 2008 when home prices were at their peak.

Property owners receiving notices will see a change in their real estate taxes after July 1. The areas where assessments remain unchanged included Grandin Court, Raleigh Court, Wasena, South Roanoke, Windsor Hills, Old Southwest, and Jefferson Hills.

Low sales and listing prices in other areas contributed to lower assessments. Volume data was scarce – sales were down 29% for 2011. However, the median sale price has remained unchanged at $133,000 showing stability.

Twenty homes that sold for over $300,000 and one that sold for $1.2 million helped increase the average selling price by 20% in 2011.

Commercial sales volume was down 7.1% with only 26 valid sales. Commercial assessments increased slightly at .7%. The lack of data made assessments difficult.

On the positive side new construction added to the tax base including: Kohls, American Tire Warehouse, the Health Department’s relocation to Williamson Road, Longhorn Steakhouse at Valley View, Popeye’s Chicken on Melrose, the Trane/Newbern Warehouse, Dollar General, United Heath Care Renovations, and a new CVS on Plantation Road.

Rehabilitation of the River House, Lofts at West Station, Lofts at Sixteen West and Fitness Center, Community High School, and the Chemsolve renovations also boosted the tax base. Multi-family properties remained unchanged.

Hardest hit areas were those with the most foreclosures. These areas included Northwest and a stretch from Southeast up to Hershberger Road.

Council member Anita Price remarked that there was a need to “evaluate what’s going on in those areas” and that the city needed to evaluate what assistance might be needed. Lower said the most popular assistance was going to the large number of elderly in the city through tax freezes. Veteran assistance is also available.

Shawver explained to council that foreclosures put downward pressure on adjacent property values. “It makes a buyers market and depresses other home values near the foreclosures – it’s a supply and demand issue too,” she said.

Property owner appeals can be submitted now through January 31. There were 74 appeals last year, compared to 230 appeals in 2008 that were made during the housing boom. Lower’s office is bracing for a possible influx of appeals considering the shear volume of notices being mailed.

Forms are available online and at the Municipal Building in Lowers office on the second floor by the elevators.

Shawver advised citizens to “hang on” through these rocky real estate times. She said she realizes it is a double-edged sword – reduced real estate tax versus loss of home value.

Increase in sales tax, meals tax and occupancy tax make up the difference in the real estate shortfall. It’s a little early to predict the fiscal year 2013, the budget should come in even with FY 2012.

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