Douglas County property values are still on the rise, though not as high as last year’s historic jump
photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World
Douglas County’s property values are seeing another big increase this year, though not quite as significant as the historic jump taxpayers reckoned with in 2022.
The county’s property tax base has increased by 9.3% from a year ago, with much of that increase attributed to rising home values. That means many homeowners in the county will see their tax values increase by nearly 10% or more, which could lead to significantly higher tax bills.
The 9.3% figure is one of the higher increases on record, but it is below the approximately 12% increase in the county’s property tax base last year.
Last year, the Douglas County Commission ultimately decided to lower the county’s mill levy by about 1 mill, equivalent to a reduction of about $1,783,000 in the tax dollars the county otherwise would’ve collected. But that was coupled with historically high tax values for homes in Douglas County, some of which faced individual increases of 15% or higher, and in the county’s tax base in general, which as a whole saw a 12.4% increase.
Things could be heading in a similar direction for 2023, at least based on the latest home valuations out of the Douglas County Appraiser’s Office. The office releases a monthly newsletter, and the most recent one from the beginning of this month notes that the county’s total real estate assessed valuation is more than $150 million higher than the same time in 2022, an increase of approximately 9.3%.
The appraiser’s office attributes that value mostly to market changes during the last year — much like it did in 2022 — along with new construction, reclassified properties and an increase in agricultural use values. Lack of real estate inventory, in particular, is a factor on that front.
“I really have to point to the market, to what people have been buying and selling houses for,” Douglas County Appraiser Steven Miles told the Journal-World Thursday afternoon. “Not just houses, but also commercial real estate, investment properties. I’m like everybody else — I own property and I don’t want to see my value going up because of taxes, but I’m glad when my value goes up if I’m getting ready to sell.”
Most Douglas County property owners have likely already seen exactly how much this year’s jump could affect their individual tax bills by now, as change of value notices were mailed out last Tuesday. The numbers on those notices may even be higher than 9.3% since they’re based on individual properties, not an average of the thousands of properties in the county as a whole.
But Miles said it’s important to note that while home values are indeed a part of the equation when it’s time to set property tax rates, value notices aren’t what sets them, and rising property values don’t necessarily mean an individual will definitely pay more taxes. Instead, that will be decided later this year by governing bodies like the Lawrence City Commission and Douglas County Commission when they set mill levies.
“… The value comes from what other properties are selling for, the market,” Miles said. “It’s not based on ‘Do we need to increase revenue for the county?’ That all comes later, in the budget process.”
And Miles added that when compared to other counties nearby, Douglas County could find itself in a more appealing position because it “bit the bullet” last year. He said he’s heard reports that the average property values in nearby Wyandotte, Leavenworth and Johnson counties have all seen increases in the double digits — some of them potentially even more than double Douglas County’s 9.3% average.
In the coming months, folks who don’t agree with their property’s valuation may choose to follow suit with the nearly 2,000 county residents who contested their values last year. The office is set to begin that appeals process the week of March 20, which Miles said typically results in roughly half of the requests submitted seeing some kind of change, even if it’s only a small one.
The office conducted about four times more informal appeal hearings in the spring of 2022 compared to the previous year — 1,981 of them, compared to 499 in 2021. Miles said it’s hard to tell yet whether his office will see numbers that high again this time around, but he’s prepared if it does.
“I’m braced for the worst and hope for the best,” Miles said. “I’m braced for more (meetings), or at least a similar number, but if we get less inquiries, less informal meetings, I’ll take it.”
Folks who want to request an appeal meeting can fill out a request form on the back of their change of value notice and return it to the appraiser’s office at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., no later than March 30 at 5 p.m. Miles said his office will continue those meetings through early May, and then is obligated by state statute to make decisions about those meetings no later than May 20.
Folks who appeal are asked to provide a number of different documents ahead of those meetings, including things like inspection reports, photos of damage or disrepair and recent sale information. Those can be mailed or emailed to the office at email@example.com, where folks are also able to reach out for a full list of the documents they need to submit.