I Won The (Assessment) Lottery!
Most Saint Louis County taxpayers have by now received their reassessment notices. It is hard not to think of the entire process as a lottery, even though I know the assessor’s office does a very good job, too good of a job in most people’s opinions, of assessing property in Saint Louis County. Their system works as well as any system can that has to assess 365,000 properties every two years, but you can’t help but wonder about the system when your house goes up 5% and your neighbor’s very similar house goes up 21%. I think my wife and I benefitted from comparison sales mostly from later in 2005, by which time the housing market had cooled somewhat. People who had comparisons from 2004 and the first half of 2005 probably saw higher increases. In our school district, the average increase in value was 20%. Since we live in a muni with the same boundaries as the school district, our city council and school board should roll back the tax rates 20%, resulting in an unexpected tax decrease for us. That is how we have won the lottery. Yes, I owe you all a beer in celebration.
Taxpayers need to know the average numbers for their area and pressure local government entities to roll back the rates to correspond with the assessment increases. Reassessment is supposed to be revenue neutral at all levels. Some entities, such as St. Louis County, have current rates so far below the maximum allowed (which they deserve thanks, or ‘props,” for) that they are not legally required to roll back the rate further. These government entities need to roll back their rates even though they are not legally required to, just as St. Louis County did in 2005. Not surprisingly, considering the nature of the beast, most government entities are at or near their cap and as such will be required to roll back rates. So don’t panic if your increase is 20% if your entire area is around that level – while you will still probably see a tax increase it will not by anything like a 20% increase.
When should you appeal and or panic? You should base your appeal not on the level of increase, as strange as that seems, but on the simple question of whether or not you feel your property is assessed too highly by the assessor’s office. Even if you only go up 8%, if you truly feel that the assessment is too high, and you can get some evidence to support you, then by all means appeal. As for panicking, if your increase is at least 10% more than average for your area (or 30% for most of St. Louis County) you should prepare for a sizeable tax increase and take steps now to appeal your assessment or, if you are a senior citizen or disabled, use the two programs available to you.