01/24/05 — Tax values: Sometimes cutting rates can be costly to citizens

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Tax values: Sometimes cutting rates can be costly to citizens

State law requires that property be revalued for tax purposes every eight years. Some counties have more frequent revaluations, as they are allowed to do under the state law.

Recently, commissioners in one eastern county voted to have property revalued every four years. It was a controversial issue and passed by a 4-3 vote.

Those supporting the four-year plan championed it under the banner of fairness. Those opposed — at least some of them — argued that it simply meant property owners would pay more in taxes.

Some suggest that revaluations should be “revenue-neutral.” Simply interpreted, this would translate in a lower tax rate producing the same amount of tax money because of the higher valuations.

Revaluations, while necessary, also can open the door to potentially misleading claims by incumbent politicians at election time — claims that budgets had been met “without increasing taxes” or, in some instances, “while reducing tax rates.”

This could have all the trademarks of smoke and mirrors to the property owner who compares his tax bill after revaluation to the one for the previous year.

For example, if the property “value” was increased by 25 percent and the tax rate was reduced by 5 percent, the owner of that home or farm is going to be paying considerably more in taxes despite the rate “cut.”

There can be some validity in the contention that more frequent revaluations reflect a more accurate and a fairer assessment of some property values.

But let us not be fooled by anyone who, with a straight face, pretends that raising more tax revenue is not the real purpose of having more frequent revaluations.

Governments — at every level — have only one real source of revenue: their citizens.

Published in Editorials on January 24, 2005 11:19 AM