2018-03-08 / Local News

Preparation the key to lowering your taxes

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Leelanau County’s 11 township boards of review conducted their annual organization meetings last week, and are preparing for meetings Monday and Tuesday to hear from taxpayers challenging property tax assessments.

During organizational meetings, township supervisors, who serve as secretaries of their respective boards of review, presented tax rolls to review boards and prepared for the meetings ahead.

“Prepare” is the key word here. If more taxpayers came to Board of Review meetings as well prepared as board members, the meetings might go more smoothly and likely end with better outcomes for taxpayers, according to Cleveland Township supervisor Tim Stein.

“Some people seem to show up at Board of Review meetings with a lot of questions — questions that don’t always have anything to do with their assessment or the work we’re there to do,” Stein said. “So, we end up answering a lot more questions than we do changing anybody’s tax assessment.”

Bingham Township tax assessor Angela Friske had a similar observation about what really happens at Board of Review meetings when taxpayers show up unprepared instead of ready to make a solid case for changing their assessments.

“It’s always a good idea for anyone planning to question their property tax assessment to be familiar with exactly what’s in our record about their property before they show up at the meeting,” Friske said.

Most assessors have an “assessment record card” on each property that outlines factors that went into determining a property’s worth.

“If there’s any error in fact in any of the data we have,” Friske said, “many assessors, including myself, will correct that error on the spot and make the appropriate adjustments before anyone even needs to go to the Board of Review.”

Anyone who approaches a Board of Review is advised to have a copy of the assessment record card on their property in hand and double-checked all the information on it.

“If your card says your house has a finished basement that’s increasing your assessed value — and you don’t really have a finished basement — that’s something we can fix,” Friske said.

“But just because you bought your house for less than its assessed value doesn’t mean the assessment is wrong,” she added. “There is a whole process we go through and a state-mandated formula we use to arrive at these numbers, and you need to be able to demonstrate how we got it wrong.”

Experts also suggest that anyone showing up at a Board of Review meeting be ready to state specific reasons for their appeal. It’s generally not enough to argue that an assessment is “too high” or to say property values in their neighborhood have fallen. Such assertions must be supported with documentary evidence to turn the heads of a board of review.

Credible evidence might include an appraisal, pictures of the home, data on sales of comparable homes in the same market, drawings and measurements. Then those appealing their assessments are advised to propose a specific property value to their Board of Review and provide members with a written summary.

“It would be nice if more people would show up at Board of Review meetings with the Form 4035 (the state petition form) already filled in,” Stein said. “We can print out the form for them and have them fill it in at the meeting

— but coming with it already filled in means they’ve already done a little homework and may know what they’re talking about.”

Friske noted that the number of appeals being acted upon by boards of review are substantially lower than they were decades ago. That’s because Proposal A, an amendment to the state Constitution passed by voters, reconfigured how taxes are assessed.

She noted, too, that there is a big difference between an assessment, taxable value and state equalized value. Many appeals begin with descriptions of each. Property tax amounts are determined by taxable values.

“If you’re sure your appeal is valid and you’re not hearing what you want to hear from your township board of review,” Friske said, “you can always take your appeal to the State Tax Tribunal. But you need to be even more prepared for that.”

Meeting dates, times published

So you’ve done your homework, and you’re ready to prove that, indeed, your property taxes are too high.

The next step is easy. Just attend your township’s board of review meeting. The dates and times of boards of reviews scheduled in Leelanau County are conveniently located in one public notice published on page 4, Section Two, of this week’s Leelanau Enterprise.

Included are schedules for the county’s 11 townships as well as the City of Traverse City, whose jurisdiction includes the southeast corner of Elmwood Township.

The first of the meetings will begin at 9 a.m. Monday in Bingham, Elmwood, Leland and Suttons Bay townships as well as the Traverse City. The process will end with 1-4 p.m. sessions next Thursday, March 15, in Centerville and Glen Arbor townships.

Times and dates vary by jurisdiction.

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