Frank Szurpicki stands to save some tax money, but he isn't thrilled with his new, lower property tax valuation from the Douglas County assessor.
He knows it's been a tough real estate market that hasn't spared his Westgate neighborhood in south-central Omaha. Still, he likes to think that his raised ranch with the beautiful addition and great neighbors is worth more than its new $137,800 valuation. That's down $10,300 from last year.
“Wow,” Szurpicki said. “I hate to see values go down. In my book, I know what it's worth.”
More than 60,000 homeowners in Douglas and Sarpy Counties will see their valuations drop this year, which could mean lower tax bills in 2013.
Meanwhile, more than 24,000 homeowners in the two counties will have higher valuations than last year and potentially higher tax bills.
Valuation notices will be mailed today in Douglas County and next week in Sarpy. But readers can get an early look at their valuations — and those of their neighbors — by going to The World-Herald's website Curbwise.com.
A property's valuation is half of the property tax formula used to calculate tax bills. The other half is the property tax rate, which is the combined total of the tax levies set by schools, city and county government and other jurisdictions.
If tax rates do not change, a lower valuation will cut the property tax bill, and a higher valuation will increase it.
Property valuations are supposed to be both accurate and fair compared with neighboring or similar property. A homeowner who thinks the valuation is too high can appeal to the County Board of Equalization during the month of June.
County assessors typically update at least some valuations each year to keep up with the changing real estate market. Lately, that has meant more reductions than increases for Omaha-area homes.
“We've had an overall decrease (in residential values),” Sarpy County Assessor Dan Pittman said.
Existing residential and recreational property valuations are down 1.06 percent in Sarpy and 0.71 percent in Douglas. Overall, however, the real estate tax base in each county grew slightly — 1.63 percent in Sarpy, 1.27 percent in Douglas — after adding in new home construction, improvements to existing houses and changes in commercial and farm valuations.
This is the fourth straight year of weak valuation growth in Douglas and Sarpy Counties because of the recession and slumping real estate market.
The stagnant tax base could put pressure on local governments to cut spending or boost their tax rates when they set their budgets this summer.
In Sarpy, nearly every house is getting a new valuation.
In Douglas, only about one-fourth of existing homes will see changes. That's far more than last year, but it still leaves more than 100,000 homeowners with unchanged valuations.
Douglas County officials targeted neighborhoods where the 2011 valuations had fallen most out of line compared with recent sales. Nebraska's target for valuation accuracy is 92 percent to 100 percent of market value.
Westgate was one of the areas that needed new valuations based on 2011 sales trends, said Barry Couch, Douglas County's chief deputy assessor. He lowered valuations on 91 percent of the area's houses.
Couch said it appears that recent home sellers might be more willing to accept a lower price than they were several years ago. “I think they're facing reality and starting to sell,” he said.
Douglas County Assessor Roger Morrissey said the reduced valuations in Westgate and other areas follow the market trends, just as the steep valuation hikes a decade ago were prompted by rising prices.
Back then, he said, skeptics told him, “I bet you'll never lower values.” But he has.
“We're just giving a reflection of what homebuyers are doing with their checkbooks,” Morrissey said.
Szurpicki has mixed feelings about the result. The lower valuation on his Westgate home could save him nearly $224 a year at current tax rates, although he doesn't mind paying taxes to support schools and other government services.
But Szurpicki doesn't like anything that seems to devalue the neighborhood that's been his home since 1976. He and his late wife raised their children there, and now his daughter and grandchildren live with him. He loves the Westside school district, the nearby community pool, his friendships with his longtime neighbors.
Next door, Thomas Nieto has no qualms about seeing his valuation go down from $122,200 to $107,400. At current tax rates, the cut could save him $322.
For Nieto, the tangible tax benefit outweighs the theoretical bad news that his house might have gained little value since he bought it in 2001. He's not planning to sell, anyway.
“They're going to have to carry me out of here,” he said. “My kids can worry about it.”
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