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County appraiser: Changes to property bill not enough

By Brady Bauman

There have been some minor changes in the language of proposed Kansas Senate Bill 231, but not enough to calm the nerves of Riley County appraiser Greg McHenry.

The legislation, which is also known as the “COTA to BOTA” bill, would change the entire process of property valuations in the state — especially in the area of appeals.

The bill would change the overall appeal framework by changing the Court of Tax Appeals to the Board of Tax Appeals.

Under the current process, an appeal freezes the value of the property for one year, allowing both the property owner and county to exchange evidence and make their cases to COTA — normally over 6-9 months .

SB 231, however, would add another two years to the freeze and allow district courts to get in the mix.

McHenry argues that such a freeze would cause an inequity in property values that is unconstitutional under Kansas law.

Plus, he suggested that property owners would faces bigger tax bills after the freeze— if a property’s value rose during the prolonged appeal.

McHenry noted that values often raise 3-4 percent in any given year, so after a 3-year freeze the property’s value could be 12-15 percent higher and an owner could face a huge tax bill.

The appraiser also said a three-year freeze would cause confusion with competing property values — and very well could force a statewide reappraisal of all property to regain equity.

At least one problematical part of the bill has been scrapped, McHenry said.

Up until last week, the bill also allowed private tax representatives to appeal property values on the owner’s behalf — without the owner’s knowledge.

“In the original bill, a fee appraisal provided by a tax rep would be presumed correct — no matter the purpose, scope or date of the appraisal — without the signature of the owner,” McHenry said. “Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed.”

When it comes to bringing district courts in the process, McHenry said that could cause even more headaches. The courts were cut loose when the valuation process was last retooled.

“They were removed from the equation because it reduced costs and bureaucracy,” he said. “Putting them back in play costs everyone more money and time for the same result.

“The way the bill is currently written, you can pick and choose your district court. I know there are district judges against it, because their docket is already full with criminal cases and things like that. They’re not trained in appraisals.”

At the moment the bill is back in conference committee, McHenry said.

Lawmakers are in the midst of a three-week break.

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