Editor’s note: This is the third of a continuing series on Tooele County Corporation’s offices and employees who serve the public.
Property has value. The Tooele County Assessor’s Office keeps track of those values, which along with the tax rate set by elected officials, are used to determine the amount of tax a property owner pays.
“We determine property values,” said Wendy Shubert, who has served as the Tooele County assessor for six years. “We do not set the tax rate or determine how much tax property owners pay.”
Shubert’s office tracks the value of 900 mobile homes, 1,200 personal property accounts, and 23,869 parcels of real property.
Personal property is property that can be moved; it either comes on wheels or can be picked up and easily moved. Real property is fixed in a location, like land and buildings.
Under personal property, the county assessor’s office takes care of licensing new vehicles purchased from Tooele County dealerships and the annual renewal of vehicle licenses.
If you have stood in line at the county building to renew the license on your vehicle, an assessor’s office employee helped you.
Two full-time employees are assigned to motor vehicles licensing and they do much more than collect annual renewal payment. They also process 50 dealer license plate requests each week, handicap placards, title changes, impound releases, new vehicle identification numbers, vehicle identification number verifications, insurance reinstatements, lien changes and tax area corrections.
They also assist with the scanning of property records and other documents for the creation of an online database of public records. Other department personnel as needed assist the two motor vehicle employees at the counter serving the public.
One employee dedicates the majority of their time to the county’s 900 mobile homes, tracking addresses, receiving tax payments and following up on past due accounts. The mobile home specialist also handles title changes, issues tax clearances and moving permits, and coordinates mobile homes that have their taxes associated with the real property that they sit on.
Personal business property includes fixtures and equipment used by businesses. Store shelves, refrigerator units at grocery stores, office desks and furniture, computers, and manufacturing equipment are all examples of commercial business property.
One full-time person keeps track of 1,200 commercial property accounts in Tooele County.
Initially new businesses fill out an affidavit listing all of their personal property, the year it was purchased, the purchase cost, and the purpose of the equipment.
The assessor’s office determines the use code for the property following guidelines front the Utah State Commission. The taxable value of the personal property is then looked up in a tax commission table that uses the age and original purchase price of the equipment to determine the taxable value. As the equipment gets older the taxable value declines.
The commercial business property specialist also prepares tax billings, submits payments to the county treasurer and tracks through on delinquent accounts. This person also helps new businesses fill out their affidavits and assists state auditors that review commercial accounts to ensure compliance with tax law.
These audits are more likely to find businesses that have overvalued personal property rather than businesses that have undervalued property on their affidavit, according to Shubert.
The real property division of the county assessor’s office employs five people: Three licensed appraisers, an appraiser assistant, and a green belt specialist. Five contracted data collectors are also used by the assessor’s office to take measurements and gather data for use by licensed appraisers.
The real property staff annually determines the market value of all real property in the county. The market value set by the assessor’s office should equal the retail value of your home.
State law requires the county assessor to set the value of real property as of January 1 of each year, but it gives the assessor until May 22 to determine that value.
The assessed value is then included in the July tax notice sent to property owners and is the basis for calculating the amount of taxes due in November.
Once every five years state law requires that a detailed on site review of property be done to determine the assessed value.
During the detailed review, the assessor’s office staff may find improvements such as finished basements or recreational vehicle pads that were completed without a building permit since the last detailed review. These improvements may increase the assessed value of a parcel.
Between detailed reviews the assessor’s office updates property values using an industry standard survey of construction costs that is indexed by location to determine the value of structures. Land values are determined by looking at the sales price of comparable properties in the same neighborhood.
In addition to the county assessor’s office determining property values based on local market conditions, the state tax commission also monitors the actual sales price of property compared to the assessed value. The goal is to keep the sales price within 90 to 110 percent of the assessed value.
Once property value notices are sent out in July, property owners may appeal their assessed value if they feel there has been an error in the assessment and they have some sort of evidence to back up their claim, according to Shubert.
Assessor’s office staff works with property owners and often times an agreement on an assessed value can be reached without the need for a hearing by an independent hearing officer.
In 2012, there were 200 appeals out of 23,869 real property parcels. Out of the 200 appeals, only 20 required a hearing.
In addition to the assessing real property, the real property division also administers the Farmland Assessment Act. The Farmland Assessment, or Green Belt Act, allows agricultural property in urban areas to be assessed at a lower rate based on the use of the property. This allows for people with agricultural property in areas where urban development has driven up property values, to continue to be used for agricultural operations without being driven out of business by high urban property values.
Tooele County has 2,913 parcels that take advantage of the Green Belt Act.
In 2012 the county assessor’s office started the year with an annual budget of $855,927. That number was lowered to $797,778 for 2013, a 6.8 percent reduction. That savings was accomplished by the loss of one full-time motor vehicle clerk, reducing hours for one full time position to three quarter time, and reducing supply, software licensing, and vehicle expenses.
Shubert has worked in the county assessor’s office for 13 years and is currently serving her sixth year as county assessor. In 2012 Shubert was recognized as assessor of the year by her peers in the International Association of Assessing Officers.
Elections for county officers, including treasurer, will be held in 2014.