Property values double in W.Va.

January 30, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER


The value of all real property in Berkeley County continued to grow this fiscal year, more than doubling last year's figures, according to numbers provided by the county assessor's office.

Assessor Preston Gooden said as much as $863,513,535 was added to the value of real property throughout the county, and that amount will grow before the fiscal year is over, Gooden said.

"We'll have at the end, when we close the books in another month, a billion-dollar increase," Gooden said.

He credits both new construction and funding provided by the Berkeley County Commission to hire extra appraisers to keep the tax rolls up to date for the increases.


Gooden said he employs seven appraisers in his office, five more than the previous year.

The billion-dollar figure, which represents the total value for all properties appraised in the county and not actual revenue amounts, would more than double last year's increase, when the value of real property grew by $409 million. About half of that amount came from new construction, according to the assessor's office.

County Administrator Deborah Hammond said the year's final figure will be provided to the county commission when it sits as the Board of Review and Equalization, beginning next week and running to Feb. 16. The board provides residents the opportunity to challenge assessments calculated by the assessor's office before tax bills are mailed out, Hammond said.

The assessment amounts won't spike nearly as high next year, Gooden predicted. Appraisers have caught up on the backlog of property from last year, when as many as 14,854 parcels throughout the county remained to be appraised, he said.

"We're not going to keep picking up those (parcels) that should have been gotten in previous years," he said.

Gooden said he would request two more appraisers for the new fiscal year, one to handle commercial appraisals and the other to examine the county's stock of tax-exempt properties.

Along with new properties being added to the assessor's rolls, rising housing values continue to be a vexing issue for some in Berkeley County. Gooden said he remains concerned about the effect that is having on the area's older and fixed-income residents, who are being squeezed by higher property tax bills.

One tool Gooden said he hopes to use to give homeowners some tax relief is changing the frequency of appraisals. Gooden said appraising one-half of the county one year and the other half the next year could soften the blow of tax increases from ordering appraisals every three years.

"Obviously, (countywide appraisals every three years) won't be being done," Gooden said. "We couldn't keep up with the new building."

The county's property levy rate is calculated at 60 percent of a property's appraised value. Revenue raised from property taxes accounts for almost half of the county commission's overall budget.

The commission reduced the county's levy rate last year from 12.37 cents to 11.64 cents for Class I properties. Last year's reduction marked the third year in a row the rate was reduced.

Under state law, county commissions must roll back property levy rates when an annual appraisal of property causes an increase in projected property tax revenue of more than 1 percent. Last year's rate increased property tax revenue about 3 percent to more than $19 million.

Gooden said he is encouraged by a bill introduced in the state Legislature this week by state Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, that freezes taxes on property owned by residents 65 and older.

"At a later date, should they sell that property, then those taxes would have to be picked up," Gooden said. "But as long as they live ... they'll never have to pay those increased taxes."

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