Socorro County starts mass appraisal

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The Socorro County Assessor’s Office is doing a mass appraisal of properties, starting with those in the city of Socorro, and appraisers appreciate the cooperation of property owners.

The assessor’s office is responsible for valuing all real estate for the taxing authorities in the county, such as municipalities, school districts, hospital districts and the county itself. Assessed values determine how much the owners pay in property taxes.

Julie Griego, office manager for the assessor’s office, gave the department’s report to the Socorro County Commission during the commission’s regular meeting Jan. 22. She said the assessor’s office is still working on the master appraisal and wanted to get the word out so people don’t panic when they see county workers walking around their yards. Appraisers wear bright neon green vests when they go out appraising in order to be easily identified from a distance.

Griego said the master appraisal hasn’t been completed for many years, and many homes are probably not even on the tax rolls. She noted the day of the commission meeting, for instance, the assessor’s office discovered a huge home in San Antonio that wasn’t on the county’s tax rolls at all, although it has been standing for many years.

She added many homeowners will probably see their assessed values — and consequently, their property taxes — drop as well.

Griego also said the three appraisers hired on a temporary basis are doing very well. She said the assessor’s office needs to hire them permanently, not just to help with the master appraisal.

“We need to have at least four appraisers in that office,” Griego said. “We not only have to go out and do the residential, we have to also do commercial. We haven’t done that in forever.”

Griego said the assessor’s office cannot even increase a commercial property value anymore unless an appraiser actually goes to the site and reappraises the property. She explained that over the last several years, the department has just put up desk reappraisals for commercial properties. Desk reappraisals are merely increases, and state statute does not allow that on commercial properties anymore.

Griego also gave commissioners a copy of the assessor’s new notice of value. Starting this year, the notice of value must include the previous year’s assessed value, tax rate and tax dollar amount so property owners can compare data and estimate what their property taxes will be. The notice of value will be sent out April 1. The notice of value is not a tax bill. The county treasurer issues the tax bill each November.

During an interview Thursday, Elaine Briggs, chief appraiser in the assessor’s office, explained the master appraisal is a mass reappraisal of every single structure in Socorro County. She noted over the past few years, the assessor’s office has come across many structures — some several years old, like the San Antonio house — that aren’t on the tax rolls at all.

“And that’s becoming quite common,” Briggs said. “Structures either haven’t been appraised, or a lot of these structures have old values. And we need to bring all the values in Socorro County up to … current and correct values.”

She said appraisers are also evaluating vacant land lots, not just properties with structures.

Briggs said it has been at least 10 years since the county has completed a master appraisal, but she wasn’t sure if the door-to-door visits have ever been done in the county.

She said the master appraisal should be done about every six years. She estimated this mass reappraisal should conclude within about two years, by January 2015.

“The county has fallen way behind,” Briggs said. “And a lot of these residences … that we’ve gone out and reappraised, the values have come down considerably because a lot of these houses are carrying old values that were attached to them when the houses were a lot newer.”

Briggs noted many houses built in the 1980s or 1990s haven’t been reappraised since they were brand new.

Although a visit from the assessor’s office may result in a lower property tax bill, Briggs said appraisers have experienced some resistance from residents.

“We had one gentleman tell our appraisers: ‘Why don’t (you) just give up already,’” Briggs said. “I don’t think that making sure that our values are maintained at current and correct is something that we should ever give up on. It’s something we need to continuously strive for.”

When appraisers visit a property and the owner isn’t home, they leave a door hanger on the resident’s doorknob. Unfortunately, many residents don’t call back; Briggs estimated her office gets only about a 30 percent response with the door hangers.

She said when people don’t call back, appraisers must assume information about the home — and they may be misinformed.

“We’re hoping to get as much input from the property owners as we can,” Briggs said.

Briggs added the assessor’s office is willing to discuss a valuation. If a property owner receives a notice of valuation in the mail that seems too high or too low, the owner is “more than welcome” to call the office to discuss their concerns. She noted the protest period is April 1-31, and property owners can file a protest during that time.

The appearance of the assessor’s door hanger most often means just a few more questions need to be answered. Briggs said if a resident comes home to find one on their door, the simplest thing is just to call back; the call is not likely to exceed 10 minutes. Often they can finish up the entire matter over the phone without another on-site visit — unless the appraiser wasn’t able to access the property at all on the initial visit, as in the case of a locked gate.

“We need to verify that the information we do have is correct,” she said.

Briggs showed a card appraisers fill out for each property, and most of the information necessary can be shared over the phone. She said sometimes, in the case of a big, elaborate home, they ask for floor plans.

The card asks for such details as square footage, what type of heating and cooling a structure has, how many bathrooms, whether there is a basement, how many rooms comprise the structure, etc.

“If you don’t call us back, and any of this is changed and we have to use old data — to me, it’s not helping the situation at all,” Briggs said. “Because if anything about this data has changed, we’re still not correct, we’re not valuing correctly.

“It’s a huge job, and it will make it a lot easier if we have the cooperation of the public.”

Briggs said the county has converted to Tyler, a new database system for records. One side effect of transferring information to the new database was that property values got stuck in a spot where the computer can’t properly calculate them. The values automatically increase 3 percent every year because the database isn’t programmed with the current ceiling values on the properties.

“There’s no ceiling … so it’s just going to keep climbing because it doesn’t know when to stop,” Briggs said. “Whereas if we are able to put all of these homes through the Marshall & Swift calculator and give them correct values, then the properties will increase 3 percent until it reaches that (ceiling) value, at which point it will start depreciating.

“That’s why it’s imperative that the property owners get a hold of us so we can determine that ceiling value.”

Briggs said the master appraisal is as much about fairness as it is about keeping records current. She said entire subdivisions have been built in the mountains behind Magdalena that appraisers need to make sure are all on the rolls, just as they need to ensure old houses are not stuck at incorrect high values.

“We’re not necessarily going to raise your taxes when we go out to reassess,” Briggs said. “More times than you would imagine, we’re going to lower your taxes. And that’s just the bottom line.”

 

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