BRISTOL — Bruce McAleer has owned the same 34 acres of land in Bristol for the past 18 years, so when he received his 2012 property assessment in the mail last week, he thought he knew what to expect.
Past assessments on McAleer’s land had been pretty steady. Some years showed small increases, and other times, the assessments even dropped a bit. But this year, McAleer said one sector of his property was assessed for 860 percent more than last time. Another sector’s assessment shot up 537 percent.
“It was quite a shock,” said McAleer, whose land lies in a floodplain east of the St. Joseph River. “It’s a little alarming.”
But McAleer isn’t the only one who has been baffled by the new assessments.
“We have been getting phone calls and people coming to the counter because their assessments have gone up, and they have questions as to why,” Elkhart County Assessor Cathy Searcy said. “With the economy the way it is, it’s hard for people to understand why the assessments on their properties went up if the market isn’t strong.”
CHANGES FROM THE STATE
More than half of people who own residential properties in Elkhart County will find that their assessments actually decreased this year, Searcy said. Of the 42,045 residential parcels in the county, 53 percent dropped, and the rest either increased or remained the same.
There are a few reasons for fluctuations, Searcy said. She noted that the state issued new cost tables that dictate what the county should charge per square foot for each floor of a building, concrete patios, roof extensions, detached garages and other add-ons. The depreciation schedule for structures also changed, she said. As of last year, buildings were being depreciated from 1999. Now, they are depreciated from 2012.
“Cost tables may have taken their assessment up, but depreciation could take it down,” Searcy said.
The 2012 reassessment was the county’s first time using aerial maps to verify the classifications of land. For example, some parcels were reclassified from agricultural to residential, which causes an increase in the assessment of a property.
This year, the county hired an outside firm, Indiana Assessment Services in Rochester, to verify property characteristics and generate more accurate assessments.
“Some people may see an increase, but it may not just be that the value of their property went up,” Searcy said. “It may be they were incorrectly assessed before.”
LAND IN FLOODPLAINS
Searcy said she didn’t know the details of McAleer’s property assessments but noted that the land’s location in a floodplain makes a difference.
The county’s last general reassessment was conducted in 2002. Since then, the county has taken over assessments that were previously performed by townships. Concord is now the only township in the county with its own assessor. The move allowed the rules for assessing floodplain properties to become more uniform, Searcy said. But every floodplain property is different, she noted.
“If the property floods every spring, and you can’t build anything on it and can’t even grow grass on it, there probably isn’t much value in that land,” Searcy said. “But some are in floodplains that have never had flood problems.”
Searcy suggests that residents who have questions or don’t agree with their assessments file an appeal by Oct. 15. She said they can do this by sending a letter to her office including their name, address, parcel number and phone number. The county plans to resolve all appeals before tax bills are mailed next spring.