Indiana’s 92 county assessors will spend the next 18 months individually assessing each of their counties’ land parcels. For Monroe County that means assessing 60,000 plots at a cost of about a million dollars. The process is required by state law, but differs from the practice many Hoosier assessors have been following for the past few years—one those assessors had been hoping would be made permanent.
Ken Surface, Vice President of Nexus Group, a company Monroe County hires to assist in the assessing process, starts his mornings early to get a jump on the summer heat and to make stops at as many houses as he can fit in a day. Assessing is a year-round job, especially during a full-fledged general reassessment like this one.
“The difference between this reassessment and then just doing the annual adjustment is you’ve got to just think of this as more like a full blown audit of every single property,” Surface said.
For this reassessment, Surface or another representative of the county assessor’s office physically visits every one of the city’s 60,000 parcels. On this day, Surface stops at homes on Clarkway Drive, on the city’s far south side.
“The county gives us a plat map of where things are. And then when we show up at the property we have a property record card which gives all the details of the property and that’s what we’re going to be out here checking is the validity of the details that are here on their property record card,” Surface said.
Surface checks to be sure the measurements listed on the property record cards mesh with what he sees. For the most part he says he can just eyeball it, but when he suspects a disparity he measures—like on a deck that looks to be a few feet longer than what’s pictured. He’s also looking for new projects for which the owner may not have obtained a building permit — meaning it wouldn’t be noted on the record card — as well as landscaping and even some interior improvements. Surface says finishing a previously unfinished basement is one of the biggest factors that could increase a homeowner’s property taxes. And to determine that, he will walk right up to a house and have a look.
Each house also receives a grade on a scale from E to Triple-A. Most of the houses in this neighborhood, assessed in the $300,000 range, received a C+1 grade. They’re mostly typical cul-de-sac style, multi-story homes with vinyl siding, a little brick work, big back yards and decks. A triple-A home, Surface says, would be worth closer to $2,000,000.
“People, they think of reassessment and they think ‘oh I’ve got to fear. Oh my taxes are going up,’ and that kind of stuff. That’s a fallacy,” Surface said. ” I mean, if their house was at market value and everything was correct, reassessment isn’t going to change their values. It may change the neighbors values whose house was inaccurately reassessed.”
Monroe County Assessor Judy Sharp said residents’ homes are actually reassessed on a regular schedule anyway. Sharp — and most of the other assessors in the state — have been following a cyclical reassessment schedule, which means assessors revisit only about a quarter of the parcels in a county each year. That still means that each individual house is reassessed every four years, but that not every house is on the same schedule. It’s a process that Sharp said has helped nearly all of Indiana’s counties turn tax bills in on time for the first time in years. But this year state law required assessors to revert to the original system. The law calls for a general reassessment of all property, taking place every five years. Sharp says she and other state assessors worked to get that changed.
“The cyclical reassessment did not get passed into law this year so that consequently threw us into a general reassessment cycle,” Sharp said. “They, as in the legislators, they would have had to pass a law to do away with the term general reassessment. That’s all it would have taken.”
Sharp said the general reassessment process is inefficient and costly, especially when compared to the 300-thousand dollars she spends per year for a cyclical reassessment. More on the conflict and possible solutions for assessing equality and on-time billing in Indiana in the second part of this story Wednesday.