Allen County Assessor Stacey O’Day has worked in the assessor’s office for 30 years. She’s answered countless questions over those years, but by far the most frequent one goes something like this: “I didn’t make any improvements, so why are you changing my assessment?”
To which she or one of her staff members politely answers, “We have to stay with market value.”
The assessor’s job is to accurately and uniformly determine the market value of every property in the county. That information then goes to the auditor, who factors in deductions and other charges to the property and determines your total amount due. Then the treasurer sends out the bills.
But what you owe is largely determined by that first step. And these days, assessors operate in a manner similar to real estate agents. They look at sales of similar properties in your area to account for changes in the housing market. The process is called trending.
“Every sales disclosure form comes to this office,” O’Day said. The data is put into a spreadsheet and used to calculate whether home prices are rising or falling.
In addition, state law requires a cyclical reassessment. “The law says once every four years (someone from the assessor’s office) has to go take pictures,” O’Day said.
This year the office is doing a cyclical reassessment on St. Joe Township. “We just started with boots on the ground,” O’Day said.
With 110,000 residential homes in Allen County, it’s no surprise the assessor’s office has a staff of 30.
The assessors won’t ask to go inside your home, but they might walk around the property and take measurements. They have county-marked cars and identification should someone become suspicious of the activity. And they leave a green door hanger on every home explaining they were there and why.
If you happened to, for instance, add a pole barn or pool to your property and “forgot” to pull the permits, the assessor will note the property improvement and that will be included in future tax bills.
The goal is for the assessed value to be close to what an actual buyer would pay for the property. Even if you haven’t made any improvements to your property, if housing prices are going up then your house will be worth more, so your assessed value will go up.
So what can you do if you believe your assessment is too high? Build a case with as much documentation as you can find, then file an appeal. The appeal goes through the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals, or PTABOA. It’s often referred to verbally as the “PE ta BO a,” just so you aren’t confused if that term is thrown at you.
In addition to residential property, the assessor’s office also is responsible for farmland and business/industrial use.
O’Day says the assessor’s office has some “pretty spectacular tools” to facilitate doing their jobs, especially when the department was quarantined due to COVID. For example one program will let assessors measure the exterior of a property using a picture, and then maneuver the tools to measure the height, width and length of a building.
If you’ve ever wondered where your tax money goes, that’s easily accessible, too. When you get your tax bill, you’ll find Table 3: Gross property tax distribution amounts applicable to this property.
It breaks down each taxing unit’s tax rate and how much of your bill goes to each. For example, in taxing district 059 Pleasant Township, Fort Wayne International Airport, Allen County, the Allen County Public Library, the school system, Southwest Fire District and Pleasant Township all get a bite out of your bill. Schools get the biggest bite in this taxing district, with a 2021 tax rate of 0.9490. The township gets a minuscule amount, with a rate of 0.0133 for 2021.
Your tax bill also shows the maximum tax that may be imposed under the tax cap. The tax cap is held at 1% for homestead properties, 2% for rentals and agricultural land, and 3% of non-residential properties and personal property.
It’s important to note that if your assessed value goes up, your property taxes will go up, even with the circuit breaker tax cap in place.
The Allen County Assessor’s office has a wealth of information on its website, http://allencounty.us/assessors-office. But probably most impressive is access to your property record card (or your neighbor’s) to find all the details on your property, including assessed value. You can see how much it’s changed from the prior year.
There’s even a page that explains the data on your property tax card. You’ll find instructions on how to search for comparable sales.
O’Day said less than 1% of property tax assessments are appealed. That’s a pretty good track record. Nevertheless, it’s good to look at your tax bill and give the assessor’s office a call if you question anything.