Berkeley Co. assessor says real estate values down

Lifting of freeze on property values for some taxpayers might result in assessment hikes

January 28, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Kilmer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Real estate values in Berkeley County are down about 6 percent from 2010, Berkeley County Assessor Patricia A. "Patsy" Kilmer told members of Berkeley County Council Friday.

The council had convened as the county Board of Review and Equalization for the first time this year.

Although residential values have continued to decline, Kilmer told council members they may hear complaints from taxpayers who saw assessment increases because of the lifting of a freeze on property values to benefit seniors instituted in 2007 by her predecessor, the late Preston B. Gooden.

The freeze benefited a little more than 4,000 taxpayers who qualified for the homestead exemption, but state tax officials have advised the freeze is against the law, Kilmer said.

"It's against (state) code, so I could be held accountable for that," Kilmer said. "I think our county was the only county in the state that had done that."

As a result of lifting the freeze, one property owner saw an increase of more than $212, while two other property owners had saved $1,000 and $1,200, respectively, over the four-year period, Kilmer said.

Kilmer said the decline in property values offered a better opportunity to make the necessary correction and cause less of a hardship for seniors.

Taxpayers who would like to meet with the Berkeley County Assessor's Office regarding their property values assessments should contact the Appraisal Division at 304-267-5072 before Feb. 22, the last day to submit an assessment review application, according to the assessor's website.

If a property owner disagrees with the findings of the assessor's office, or believes the property value is incorrect, he or she can appeal to the County Council convened as the review and equalization board.

Given the downturn in the housing market, the decline in real estate values was expected, but the slide is notably less than last year when residential real estate values dropped by 17 percent, County Administrator Deborah Hammond said Friday.

"What saved us (last year) was the fact that commercial (real estate) was higher," Hammond said of the impact on the county's budget.

While unable to say what impact the continued decline may have on the budget this year until she sees final assessment numbers, Hammond said she expects at least one more year of decreased real estate values based on the county's three-year, property-assessment cycle.

"It's like we've talked about before, the reason we've worked on the Rainy Day Fund and continued to work on contingency is because we're not out of this yet,"  Hammond said.

The council Thursday approved a budget revision reducing the county's contingencies revenue account by nearly $100,000 because of a continued decline in property transfer tax revenue.

Transfer taxes, which are collected when property is sold or transferred to another owner, are off by nearly $120,000 since the beginning of the fiscal year, according to figures by Hammond.

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