Seventy Natrona County residents plan to ask the County Commission to reconsider their property tax assessments after receiving abnormally high assessments this year.
The trouble began in May, when residents started receiving their annual property valuations from the county assessor’s office. Many residents — 517 in just the first week of May — appealed the valuations, citing uncharacteristically high increases despite their properties being unchanged from the year prior. In some of those cases, valuations more than quadrupled, meaning property taxes increased as well.
The property valuation appeal process works in stages. First, a resident must appeal the valuation directly with the assessor’s office. If a property owner is still not satisfied after appealing the valuations with the assessor, they can appeal to the County Board of Equalization, which is comprised of county commissioners.
This year, 256 property owners planned to appeal their valuations to the County Board of Equalization, according to county data. That number has dropped significantly, with 70 residents still planning to make their case before the board as of Thursday.
Those hearings are currently set to begin Nov. 13 and last until Nov. 20. Those dates may get condensed, however, County Commission Chair Rob Hendry said. Hendry said even with the drop from 256 to 70, there are more appeals this year than he’s seen in his time on the commission.
The significant drop in appeals isn’t uncommon, and it likely means the property owner found a compromise with the assessor or decided not to go to the trouble of pleading their case before the commission, according to commissioners’ secretary Michelle Maines, who is in charge of notifying residents of their hearing dates. Maines said last year not a single appeal made it to the County Board of Equalization. They had all been resolved before then.
When valuations were first sent out in late April, newly elected Natrona County Assessor Matt Keating admitted they weren’t perfect. Part of the reason, Keating contended, was how disorganized the office had been in years past.
Indeed, before Keating’s time, Natrona County’s valuations had consistently fallen outside of the statistical bounds mandated by state statute. This trend caught the attention of the State Board of Equalization, the entity responsible for overseeing county assessor’s offices.
The county is under threat of facing an “equalization” mandated by that board if the trend doesn’t improve, Keating has said in the past. In an equalization, the state steps in and realigns assessed property values across the county so they’re closer to market values. The last time the board had to order an equalization was 2006, also for Natrona County.
Keating has been adamant that for assessments’ accuracy to improve, his office will need more staff. The county commission rejected Keating’s request after he gave his office raises without first clearing it with the commission. Keating has said he doesn’t regret giving his staff raises and would do it again.
Still, the short-staffing makes it more difficult to vet each property in the county and as such more difficult to accurately value them, Keating said. But the massive reduction in the number of appeals is a result of the assessor’s office working with residents to improve the county’s data on those parcels.
“There’s just been a tremendous amount of cleanup,” Keating said, adding that the work his office has done this year will ensure valuations are more accurate in the future.
As for the residents asking the commissioners to reevaluate their assessments, Keating said the County Board of Equalization tends to side with the assessor.
Hendry said in his experience the results have been mixed. Sometimes the commission, acting as the County Board of Equalization, sends the valuations back to the assessor’s office to rework, sometimes they side with the assessor, and sometimes, though less often, they side outright with the property owner.
Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites
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