Tuesday, June 03, 2008

What Does Roger Morrissey Have on the Omaha World-Herald?

I'm kidding. But the OWH already seems to be running interference for the Douglas County Assessor as we head into property tax protest season.

I have said at county board meetings, on my radio show, and at public events that the assessor is burdened with a virtually impossible task, and he is required by state law to be relentless at it. "Shoot the messenger" should not be the automatic reaction to news from the assessor that one's valuation has gone up, as mine did this year and in 2005.

But neither should the assessor be granted immunity from scrutiny.

Last year, 10,000 Douglas County taxpayers protested the valuation of their homes set by the assessor. About 6,000 won some level of reduction from Douglas County commissioners (myself among them) sitting as the Douglas County Board of Equalization.

The OWH ripped into us commissioners as cheesy politicians passing out tax breaks like candy, ruining the valiant work of the assessor.

The county board hires a team of professional appraisers to serve as referees to review taxpayer protests. It's not politicians playing sugar daddy. It's politicians trying to give the taxpayer the fairest treatment. We bring in neutral third parties with professional training in valuation of real estate. Then we generally approve what the third-party pros say is the fair result.

We'll do the same this year. Yet a recent OWH editorial said:

Midlands homeowners are right to feel angry and pinched, just not at or by county assessors. The spending policies that influence how much people pay in property taxes aren't decided by the assessors. They're determined by the elected officials who set tax levies at the school board, city and county levels.

Yes, the buck stops with me and other commissioners when it comes to setting the county budget. But I'm looking at spending increases requested by the assessor for his operation as I contemplate the budget the county board is putting together for the next fiscal year, so it's not accurate to give the assessor or any county official a free pass on fiscal policy. The assessor was among the non-commissioner elected county officials who sued the county board a few years ago for not giving them bigger budgets.

Back to last year, and whether the assessor bears any responsibility for the "angry and pinched" sensation of the taxpayer. If 60% of protesters were granted some degree of relief by neutral third-party professionals, doesn't that mean the assessor overreached and valued too many properties too high?

The assessor shouldn't be criticized for that. As I said, it's virtually impossible to keep most property valued at 92-100% of market value and truly equalized. That's why we have a protest process, so there can be some correction if necessary.

But I will be watching for illogical cheap shots from the OWH or any other voice as this year's property tax protest season plays out.


OmaSteak said...

If 60% of valuation protests last year were successful, that means the Assessor's office is doing a pretty lousy job. Of course, it's impossible to tell since the exact calculations used to produce a valuation are not made public. The OWH is absolutely correct in placing the blame for high property taxes on those elected officials who use their authority to levy such taxes. As you're working on the next county budget, maybe you should consider that care of the indigent and other similar social services are not the proper function of government but instead are properly addressed by charities who don't have to power to tax. You should study the "Fair Tax" by reviewing the website www.fairtax.org so you get a better understanding of the leading proposal for a consumption-based tax to replace all personal/business income, property, employment, etc. taxes. BTW, is your opponent for the County Board making your support for eliminating face-to-face property valuation protests the leading issues in your race???

OmaSteak said...

BTW, I've found the best way to protest my property valuation...we're going to move out of Douglas county and NE altogether. You don't have to move very far to get away from the ever-growing appetite for increased taxes in NE...will the last one to leave, please turn out the lights??? LOL!!!