Most Douglas County property owners soon will get notices in the mail telling them their home's value has changed for taxation purposes.
And county officials are getting ready to field questions from property owners whose valuations have risen since the last change was made in 1991.
"I think some people are going to be surprised," Douglas County Commissioner Mark Buhler said Saturday.
The Douglas County appraiser's office will mail the 1993 change-of-value notices to all county property owners on Feb. 26. Any property owner who doesn't receive a change of value notice by March 5 should contact the county appraiser's office.
Buhler said the county commission will meet Monday afternoon with Marion Johnson, county appraiser, to talk about the valuation changes.
"It was Marion's feeling we would like to get them out as early as we can so people can have an opportunity to ask questions," Buhler said.
JOHNSON SAID he expects the values to go up for a substantial number of properties in the county.
"During the past two years we have seen a strong upward trend in the real estate market in Douglas County for both residential and commercial properties," Johnson said.
The county analyzed 82 residential properties that have sold twice since Jan. 1, 1990, and found sale prices were increasing about 0.5 percent a month, or about 5 percent a year.
Buhler said he expected a number of concerns about the valuation changes.
Some property owners might not have realized that housing has appreciated in value since Jan. 1, 1991, the last time properties were revalued in the county, he said.
Others will be concerned because their property was undervalued the last time and the corrected valuation appears to be too large an increase, Buhler said.
Also, "some people will be concerned that their taxes went up at all and won't care why," he said.
ANOTHER FACTOR coming into play this year is a change in Kansas law. Buhler said some people also may be upset because they thought they were reducing their property taxes last fall when they voted for a constitutional amendment changing assessment rates for different classes of property.
In the election, voters approved lowering assessment rates for residential property from 12 percent to 11.5 percent of fair value. In addition, the rate on commercial property was dropped from 30 percent to 20 percent.
However, property tax bills are calculated using the assessment rate and the mill levy, which is based on total valuation, Buhler said. A mill is a tax of $1 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.
"We don't know if it's going to create an increase in the tax bill, because we don't know what our mill levy is going to be," Buhler said. Mill levies will be set by local governing bodies during the summer.
ALTHOUGH state law requires that values on properties be updated annually, the state Board of Tax Appeals put a moratorium on valuation changes last year.
The only properties that had their values changed in 1992 were those undergoing additions or deletions such as building a new home, making an addition, or tearing down a structure.
"One of my concerns is that the moratorium was good and bad last year," Buhler said. "It was good in that we had some problems and got them fixed. But it was bad because people didn't go through the procedure last year. They may have forgotten we need to do this every year."
The biggest changes might be because of corrections that were made on specific properties were originally undervalued, Buhler said.
FOR EXAMPLE, a home's true value may have been $80,000 at the time of the last reappraisal, but it may have been wrongly valued at $69,000. In such a case, a homeowner probably didn't bring the error to the appraiser's attention, Buhler said.
However, because the data were corrected during the last two years and because of market appreciation, the true value of the property may have increased to $84,000.
"They're going to say, `How in the world could my house have gone from $69,000 to $84,000?' And they're going to be upset," Buhler said.
Buhler and Johnson said that when people get their notices, they should remember that the valuation process is not an exact science.
"If you believe it is within 10 percent of real value, then the goal of the state has been set," Buhler said. "If a value is wrong we want to fix it."
As in 1991, those upset with the valuations may appeal the new value with the staff. If dissatisfied, they can go through a formal appeal at the county level. And if still dissatisfied, they can make an appeal at the state level in Topeka.