By Mary Drier
TUSCOLA COUNTY — It’s that time of the year for Board of Reviews.
Legal after legal ad for township Board of Review meetings is published in newspapers, but not everyone understands what a Board of Review actually does.
“A Board of Review meeting gives a property owner the opportunity to challenge the assessment on their property, the possibly of having an assessment changed, and also to ask questions about their assessment,” explained Tuscola County Equalization Director Walt Schlichting.
Also it is a time for those who qualify for exemptions to give notice.
“There is a ‘hardship exemption’ for those who are low income. That is based on income and assets,” said Schlichting.
The Michigan State Tax Commission recently allowed the disabled veterans’ property tax exemption. Because it is a new exemption, the deadline to file for it was extended until July for those who missed the December 2013 deadline in their communities. They will be able to apply in July 2014 for the 2013 credit. Because that exemption is a recent change, some township officials are concerned some of their residents who qualify for the exemption don’t know about it.
“Just in our township, we had three in December who came in for this (disabled veterans) exemption,” said Wells Township Treasurer Pat Gettel.
“The same three will come in for this next tax round, and we’ve gotten one more who has asked for the paperwork to get it. I think there are more out there in our township and others who qualify.
“Some don’t realize this also covers spouses of veterans who are or were 100 percent disabled.”
The Wells Township’s Board of Review is 9 a.m. – noon and 2-5 p.m., March 10, and 1-4 p.m. And 6-9 p.m. March 12 at the township hall.
Public Act 161 of 2013 provides totally disabled military veterans an exemption from property taxes on their primary residence. Plus that exemption extends to a disabled veteran’s spouse, if the veteran died before the tax break is granted.
Previously, a veteran could qualify for a property tax exemption only if he or she was receiving assistance for specially adapted housing.
Under Disabled Veterans exemption, any veteran who is receiving 100 percent disable (including un-remarried spouses receiving CHAMP-VA), a widow or widower, or a veteran receiving Individually Unemployable (IU) or received Specially Adapted Hosing Grant from the VA is now exempted from property tax under the new law.
However, those who want to use that provision, “must file their proof of status” with their local township assessor or tax board to become exempt from property tax.
“Assessing is to reflect half of a property’s market value. It is the board of reviews responsibility to weigh all factors and make a determination what the value of the property is and then set the assessment,” said Schlichting.
For those who plan to protest their assessments, they should bring documentation with them.
If someone wants to try to protest their property assessment is too high they should collect as much information as possible on property in the area that is similar to theirs. One of the ways to do that is to show what similar homes in the area sold for as a way to show market value.
State Rep Terry Brown (D – Pigeon) issued a notice on how to appeal a property tax assessment.
“The appeals process can be daunting for someone unfamiliar with it, but it is not difficult if you take the time to properly organize. Gather your facts and documentation that comparable homes have sold at lower prices than your appraisal, or copies of the appraisal you received through a private firm. Before an appeal, discuss the valuation with your assessor,” explained Brown. “Many will be willing to adjust your appraisal to correct errors, saving both you and them the hassle of going before the local Board of Review. If you are forced to proceed with the formal review process, you must follow the relevant deadlines.”
Each city and township has a formal Board of Review, which typically meets in March or early April. Boards must also meet in July and December to correct any errors.
“If you miss these deadlines, you will miss the opportunity to appeal the assessment upon which your property tax bill is based. To find out the deadlines, contact your city or township assessor’s office to verify the filing dates,” said Brown. “By law, the office must provide you with the forms necessary to appeal. Be sure to ask any questions you have about the form and what information is required.”
An assessor doesn’t necessarily have to visit a property for the assessment to change.
Primarily, any change in a person’s home value reflects inflation in the housing market. An assessor makes a direct appraisal of a property only periodically, on a small portion of properties each year. Studies of property sales in the neighborhood are often used to establish a base value for all properties.
“That’s why it’s particularly important for you to double-check the appraisal records from your assessor’s office when preparing your appeal,” said Brown. “You may find that your appraisal was based on assumptions you can prove are false, which would help your case.”
Some of the assumptions could have: valued a home above the actual market value or valued a home significantly above identical or similar homes in the area, or made an inaccurate structural appraisal, or made an error in the appraisal computation.
“Many factors go into a property appraisal, including age, size, quality, type of construction of the house, number of bathrooms, size of the lot, the surrounding neighborhood and the usual market price of similar homes. You have the right to review your property record with the assessor without filing an appeal. Typically, an assessor will correct an error without requiring an appeal,” explained Brown. “If you still have concerns, your first step should be to determine the actual market or true cash value of your property and compare it to the assessor’s judgment. The state equalized valuation, which is listed on bills and on notices of assessment increases, is exactly half of the assessor’s judgment of your property’s actual market value.”
Also, those who recently purchased a home for less than the value placed on it by the assessor, and similar houses in your neighborhood have sold for less than twice the amount of your state equalized valuation, that could cause an assessor may have misvalue a property.
To challenge an assessment, a property own must build their case and have documentation. Some ways to do this is use the Internet and search public records of home prices in the area. That could provide a good starting point to make a determination.
“Talk with a real estate agent or loan officer at your financial institution. They may be able to help you find recent sale prices for houses comparable to yours in size, construction, age, location and style. Some real estate firms may be willing to provide an estimate of the market value of your home for a small fee,” said Brown.
A professional appraiser will likely carry the most weight; but due to the cost, but going that route might not be worth unless there is a substantial savings.
Michigan law requires that appraisal records be available upon request from your assessor’s office. They should check to make sure that the recorded dimensions of both the house and lot are correct. The appraiser may have also missed defects that reduce the house’s value, including settling or shifting of the foundation. Also, unfinished attics and basements may be marked as finished in your assessment, inflating the value of your home.
Normal maintenance and repairs are not considered in the value of the property.
Those who sit on the board of review can correct a mistake if one is made, make adjustments and approve exemptions. While the board of review has the authority to make adjustments, they also have to be able to justify their action.
It is the board’s job to make sure everyone is fairly represented.
“All property must be assessed at 50 percent of true cash value, and the purpose of the board of review is to ascertain that this has been accomplished,” explained Schlichting.
The board will review the information presented and make a determination. If they agree an assessment should be changed, it must be endorsed by a majority of the entire board.
On showing sufficient cause, the board shall correct the assessment on any particular property to make the valuation relatively just and equal. Assessment review by the board of review shall be completed on or before the first Monday in April.
The first step in trying to appeal an assessment is to go to the board of review. A property owner cannot appeal an assessment to the State Tax Tribunal unless they first go the board of review.
If the property owner is not satisfied with the decision of the board of review, then they can appeal it to the State Tax Tribunal. Reviews of complaints and a method for tax remedies are mandated in the Property Tax Code.
If you disagree with the board’s decision, you can appeal to the Michigan Tax Tribunal. In most circumstances, you cannot take your appeal to the Tax Tribunal unless you have protested through the Board of Review’s appeal process. If you wish to appeal to the Tax Tribunal, you must do so by the end of July. You can call (517) 334-6521 or send mail to Tax Tribunal, P.O. Box 30232, Lansing, MI 48909. For more information, visit the Tax Tribunal Web site at <www.michigan.gov/taxtrib.The board of review consists of three members appointed by the township board. The township supervisor serves as board of review secretary, but not a voting member. The secretary must keep a record of board proceedings, including all assessment roll changes, and file the record with the township clerk together with any statements made by persons assessed. The application for the exemption is available from either the Tuscola County Equalization office at 125 W. Lincoln Street, Caro, or at the Tuscola County Veterans’ Affairs office on Cleaver Road, Caro, next to the health department.
For more information, call Equalization at (989) 672-3830 or Veteran Affairs office at (989) 673-8148.
Mary Drier is a staff writer for the Tuscola County Advertiser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.