Lexington undergoing first property reassessment in four years

By Nuoya Zhou

Most Lexington residents and businesses can expect the taxable value of their property to change after July next year, but probably not by much.

With a portion of property tax bills due next Tuesday for all three jurisdictions, Lexington is also in the middle of its first property reassessment in four years.

Lexington’s general property reassessment started this September and won’t end until April or May. The updated value will go into effect July 1.

The property tax bills due Dec. 5 for Rockbridge County and its two cities are based primarily on three elements, using the common practice: the assessed value determined on a multi-year cycle by professional appraisers; changes for individual assessments based on a sale or improvement, and the tax rate set by elected officials for the current year.

This is Lexington’s year for a reassessment. So last May, four outside agencies submitted bids. Lexington awarded the contract to Wampler Eanes Appraisal Group, a real estate company based in Botetourt County and operating throughout Virginia and North Carolina.

Karen Roundy is the chief assessor for Lexington’s Commission of Revenue.

The company sent a two-person team to Lexington. One of them is project director Eddie Mitchum, who City Commission of Revenue Karen Roudy said was out of town this week and unavailable for an interview. They have a temporary office at the City Hall.

To re-evaluate both residential and commercial properties, the appraisers look at past records of “arm-length” sales, which means the buyers and sellers in a deal are acting in their own self-interest.

Roudy said that since September, the appraisers have been going door-to-door to see the houses and whether they are in a good condition. Then they knock on the door and ask residents if the houses have made changes inside that affect the square footage and room structure. It’s less involved than an appraisal for a home sale.

“When you sell your house, for instance, you will have someone to go and do appraisal,” Roudy said. “You pay for an appraisal. They go into the inside. They care to say, ‘I have those gold faucets. I have those oriental rugs.’ That’s the kind of thing that you would have to sell your house but not for the general reassessment.”

If residents are not at home when they come, the Wampler Eanes appraisers leave a note with their contact information and inform residents that they have been there.

If an assessment cannot be completed by the end of next June, the city attorney must send a request for an extension to the Circuit Court. This would appear as a paid legal notice in News Gazette as well.

Mayor Frank Friedman, like many Lexington residents, received a notice that appraisers had been to his house when he was away.

In April or May, assessment notices will be mailed to property owners. Residents may file an appeal to Wampler Eanes if for any reason they disagree with the new value. The appeal to the contractor has to happen in June, before the reassessment goes into effect, Roundy said.

After the effective date, residents can still appeal to the Board of Equalization, which will be appointed by the city council.

In addition to these two options, residents can always appeal to the Circuit Court, Roudy said. “That’s your given right to do.”

Since the reassessment is still in progress, she said she couldn’t predict whether the average reassessment value would increase from 2014.

The project director downplayed the possibility of a big change. “As we work this project to completion and consider the 2016 to 2017 transactions, we could discover the ratio may change slightly,” Mitchum said. “But at any rate, based on the current assessment level, we will see subtle changes in value, some will increase, some will decrease and many will stay about where they are currently.”

Mayor Frank Friedman owns a house at 904 Ruffner Place. According to the online Virginia Mass Appraisal Network, his house is assessed at $223,200.

Since Friedman has not thought about selling his house, he said, he doesn’t know the fair market value. However, Friedman said he thinks more houses in Lexington have higher fair market value than the assessed value.

On Dec. 5, the first half of real estate and personal property tax will be due. The Lexington Treasurer’s office will collect the second half by June 1.