For the first time, taxpayers in Douglas and Sarpy Counties will get an early look at their property's tax valuation — and they can meet with the assessor's office if they see problems.
The change comes from a law requiring assessors in counties of more than 150,000 people to meet with taxpayers before the property abstract is submitted to state regulators.
In the past, taxpayers had to wait until May for valuations to come out, then they had the month of June to protest their values.
The idea is to provide a forum for property owners to flag problems with their valuations before filing a formal appeal. If the conflict isn't resolved, the property owner can still protest to the board of equalization once the final valuation is posted in May.
“That would be an obvious benefit, to make a smaller (equalization) board,” Sarpy County Assessor Dan Pittman said.
Assessors in both counties will begin scheduling appointments Wednesday, when the preliminary numbers will be posted online. Neither office will mail out notices, so it's up to property owners to check their records on the assessors' websites.
Hearings will be held throughout February. Appraisers will meet with taxpayers to discuss errors or disagreements about how their property was valued.
“Show us where we're wrong,” Douglas County Assessor Roger Morrissey said.
Douglas County, which has roughly three times the number of taxable parcels as Sarpy County, will have tighter rules for participation. Hearings will be limited to 15 minutes. The deadline to schedule a hearing is Feb. 3, though property owners can submit information for appraisers to review after that date.
Sarpy County property owners won't have to wait until February — they can set up meetings as soon as the numbers are released Wednesday, Pittman said. He doesn't anticipate a big rush, he said, but his staff will meet with taxpayers into the first week of March if necessary.
Morrissey, for his part, supported the change. But he said it was difficult to finish the valuations a full two months earlier than in past years.
To meet the January deadline, his appraisers began recording property values as early as September, which meant they had fewer comparable sales on which to base their decisions, said Barry Couch, Morrissey's chief field deputy.
“It put us in a real tight crunch,” he said.
Pittman echoed that concern, especially as it pertains to farmland. Sarpy County looks to other counties for comparable sales data for agricultural property, but these counties operate under the old timeline, so there wasn't as much data.
“We were really scrambling to get market data for ag land sales in other counties,” Pittman said.
In Douglas County, commercial property owners have been granted these informal hearings in recent years because their records typically are more complex, Morrissey said. This will be the first year that the hearings are open to residential property owners, too.
To get a sense of how the hearings are run, appraisers in Morrissey's office have been watching Lancaster County, which has offered early hearings since 2009. That puts Lancaster — which also is subject to the new law — a step ahead, said Rob Ogden, chief field deputy for the Lancaster County Assessor's Office.
“It's a very positive thing,” he said. Property owners “appreciate it, and we can do a better job of explaining how we value the property.”
In 2009, about 7,200 taxpayers scheduled a meeting, Ogden said. Of those, only 500 to 600 ended up filing a protest.
“It catches the stuff that's pretty obvious,” he said.
Unlike Douglas and Sarpy Counties, which review some or all property values annually, Lancaster County does mass reappraisals every three years.