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Pearson addresses county reassessment

Fred Pearson of Pearson Appraisal Service had a major spot on the Westmoreland Supervisors’ Feb. 8 agenda and residents who braved the winter weather conditions to fill the A.T. Johnson meeting room eagerly engaged in lively discussion of soaring land values the countywide property reassessment has returned.
“The economy is not good and has not been good for a couple of years,” Pearson told the supervisors and the Westmoreland County residents.
“From 2008 to 2009 property values have dropped,” he said. “Everybody tells me we’ve got these listings on properties. Everybody’s dropping their price on their property now.

“I am dealing with what property was assessed at based on the reassessment that went into effect Jan. 1, 2006, and the 2009 sales, and I do see an increase.
 “To give you an example, on waterfront sales on homes sales, you had 94 percent of market [value]. When you compare the old assessed value, from 2009, the old assessed value that was based on the reassessment that went into effect Jan. 1, 2006, to the 2009 sale price, the county is at 85 percent of market on waterfront homes.
 “On land [the values] are at about 95 percent of market, but when you compare the old assessed value with the 2009 sale prices, the county is at 64 percent of market on waterfront land sales. On land sales it works out to about a 64 or 67 percent increase. That’s where the county’s at when you compare the nonwaterfront land based on the assessment established Jan. 1, 2006, to the 2009 sale prices.”
“Is this where you get the 106 percent?” asked a woman seated in the audience.
“Yes,” Pearson said.
“And that was non-waterfront land?” the same woman queried.
“With non-waterfront land, we’re at about 108 percent of market [value],” Pearson stated. Non-waterfront homes are assessed at 106 percent of market value.”
 District 3 Supervisor Lynn Brownley joined the discussion. He reminded board colleagues of a previous year’s correspondence from the Virginia Office of Taxation. The state tax commissioner had put the county government on notice that the 2006 values were so much lower than values reflected in a state government market analysis.
Brownley reminded his board colleagues and the county residents that the new assessment was commissioned because state government would not accept the 2006 reassessment values and had threatened to withhold the county’s income from the sale of alcoholic beverages unless new property assessment values met the state’s threshold for compliance.
The Pearson team had performed the 2006 reassessment in Westmoreland County. Brownley asked Pearson how long his firm had been doing reassessments for Virginia localities and how many jurisdictions have used Pearson’s services. Pearson stated he has been doing reassessments in Virginia for 30 years and has performed the task for as many as 100 localities.
Brownley then noted that Pearson’s contract with Westmoreland requires the values to come within 90 percent of the state government’s calculation of the property’s true market value. Pearson assured Brownley the 2010 returns will exceed the Virginia Office of Taxation threshold.
“The longer the time [between reassessments], the more the values become unbalanced,” said County Administrator Norm Risavi.
“During the 1990s we saw a 103 percent increase in waterfront property values and we dropped the tax rate from 86 cents to 60-something. The tax rate gets adjusted as the [property] values increase.”
“The amount of the tax levy is dependent on the revenue we need to run the county,” Brownley explained to the county residents.
Risavi went on to explain that when assessed values increase, the county looks at “what a tax penny generates. That’s the question we ask at budget time.
“As the assessed values increase, a penny will generate more money. I think it was $228 last time.”
Brownley returned to the Virginia Office of Taxation correspondence that spurred the county government to move forward with the most recent reassessment. He noted that the governor had found another use for the alcoholic beverage money that no locality currently receives.
“The important factor is how the current assessment affects the composite index,” Risavi said. “It’s important because it affects state funding and other studies that the state does. As you move farther away from [the true value], it impairs the county’s ability with those agencies in the state.”
Brownley again addressed the public.
“When you put the new assessment values on the book, it won’t affect the commissioner of revenue’s use of the land use values for open land, forests and agriculture.”
“The commissioner of revenue, under your ordinance, establishes what those [land use] values will be,” Risavi interjected. “The only time she can adjust those [values] is at the time of the reassessment, and each land owner has to make application to the commissioner of revenue during the year of the reassessment.”
“No,” said Brownley. “It’s every six years, and the reassessment doesn’t generate another application requirement. Mr. Pearson, you could tweak this thing forever and just continue looking back at sales.”
“I plan on working on it for another week or two,” responded Pearson. “I’ve got more hearings but they’ll be finished soon. Then I’ll have more time to work on it.
“I do want to get some input. I appreciate input from the general public and from people in the real estate field.”
“With fewer 2009 property sales, each sale has a larger effect on your computations,” Brownley noted.
“Yes,” Pearson said. “That’s something we can’t avoid.”
District 5 supervisor Larry Roberson joined the discussion and talked about the values of lots he owns in Colonial Beach which increased as much as 150 percent.
“Apparently I’ve become the land baron of the group sitting up here, if what was in the paper is accurate. I really don’t know how four lots made me become the land baron, but I might plant tomatoes on them this year.
“I don’t own a farm,” Roberson continued. “One problem I have is Colonial Beach is one of the areas where the assessed value went up a little higher than the average, so that when we lower the tax rate to accommodate [the higher values], there are still going to be some people who are going to write a bigger check, even though we said we’d lower the rate and told them they wouldn’t pay any more.
“It’s just an average and I don’t know that there’s anything we can do about it,” Roberson commented. “There will be some people that will write a check that will be less next year, and places like Westmoreland Shores, Placid Bay and Ebb Tide Beach, because of the sewer lines, will write a bigger check.”
“Some people are misinterpreting the data,” Risavi said. “There is nothing in Placid Bay or the areas that are yet to have the sewer installed that have not been adjusted by the commissioner of revenue for the assessment. In the areas where the sewer has not been installed, what is appearing on your tax form is the septic and the well.”
“The only time we add for the well and the septic is if it has a house on the property,” Pearson said.
“He’s saying that just because sewer is proposed in a given neighborhood and it’s actually becoming available, you don’t grab that value,” Brownley told Pearson.
“But yes, we have,” responded Pearson. “If [sewer] has been approved and they’ve started construction on it, yes, we have.”
“Well, then that value does go up,” commented Roberson. “They’ll have to write a bigger check”
“Yes,” said Pearson.
“They’ll have to write a bigger check than they have in the past and their land is worth more [because of the sewer]. I can understand that.”
“If your assessed value is at the average or above the average, your tax bill will increase,” Risavi interjected. “The further you get above the average, it will increase more. If it’s under the average, your tax bill should decrease.”
“What I’m saying is that there are some people in some areas, and Colonial Beach is usually one of those, that are a tick or two above [the average] and when we lower the tax rate, they still have to pay a little bit more,” Roberson said.
‘I’m not saying that it will be a lot more. It’s just the way it falls. I don’t know how to do anything about it. I’ve tried. I’ve asked everybody and I don’t understand what we can do or if we can do anything at all.”
“I’ve been holding hearings now and I’ve probably met with some 400 people from from different areas of the county” who scheduled meetings to appeal the higher reassessment values, Pearson told the members of the board.
“I’ve looked over different subdivisions and it just seems to be consistently higher on land. It seems to be consistent, but it is consistently high.
“As I understand it,” Brownley said, “based on additional sales, you, Mr. Pearson, estimate that non-waterfront land will probably be adjusted down on average about 15 percent.”
“That is correct,” Pearson responded. “I do want to get some input from the public on that when this information is on the Internet and some additional information is supplied to me. It looks like about 15 percent.”
“That’s certainly good news,” Brownley commented. “Thank you very much.”
At that point Board Chairman Woody Hynson opened the reassessment portion of the meeting to the public.
“I thank the public for being so nice and gracious and waiting,” Hynson said.
“This is a work session with the public. That’s what I call it. Please ask Mr. Pearson the questions or us the questions while we all learn where we are going and what we’re doing.”
“It’s public comment,” said County Attorney Tom Bondurant.
“Yes,” said Hynson. “This is going to be public comment. Mr. Pearson will answer the people’s questions, not us. That’s why I wanted Mr. Pearson here and asked him here, because he should have a better angle on figures than any of us.”
Butch Foutz was the first citizen to speak. He noted a published opinion piece he authored relating he thought he had died and gone to heaven when his reassessment notice came. Some of Foutz’s empty subdivision lots appreciated from $1,000 in 2006 to $16,000 in 2010. More will be published in next week’s Journal detailing comments from other county residents.

Betsy Ficklin
Staff reporter

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