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District Court Judge Rules That Douglas County Assessor Must Abide By Certain Procedures During Informal Meetings With Taxpayers

If you own real property in Douglas County and you have ever questioned how property valuations are determined, you are not alone. Fortunately, a Douglas County District Court judge recently issued a ruling that specifies the process the Assessor’s office must follow when taxpayers have questions regarding the valuation of their property.

On February 13, 2015, the Honorable Peter C. Bataillon issued a ruling that outlined a process for all informal meetings held in 2015 between a Douglas County Assessor / Register of Deeds representative and a taxpayer (or taxpayer’s representative) pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 77-1311(6) and related administrative regulations. The ruling was issued in connection with a lawsuit filed by a number of taxpayers who had grown increasingly frustrated by a perceived lack of clarity regarding the process used to determine real property valuations.

Neb. Rev. Stat. § 77-1311(6) requires the county assessor in any county with a population of at least 150,000 inhabitants to provide the opportunity to property owners to meet in person with the county assessor or a designated representative between January 15 and March 1 of each year. During such meetings, Neb. Rev. Stat. § 77-1311(6) further requires the county assessor or designated representative to “provide a basis for the property valuation contained in the notice of preliminary valuation sent pursuant to section 77-1301 and accept any information the property owned provides relevant to the property value.”

In his ruling, Judge Bataillon required that all such informal meetings held in 2015 must adhere to the following process:

  1. The property record file for each property for which an informal meeting has been requested must be printed, including pictures, sketches and valuation worksheets.
  2. During the informal meeting, the appraiser must make the property record file available for review and answer any questions about the information in the file.
  3. The appraiser must explain the basis for the 2015 preliminary value to the taxpayer or its representative and further must inform the taxpayer that the taxpayer can request a copy of any documentation provided to the Referee for the Board of Equalization if the taxpayer files an appeal.
  4. The appraiser must accept information from the taxpayer and, following the informal hearing, must review the information to determine whether the appraisal value should be changed before final values are set.
  5. Where a property owner has opted for a telephonic conference, the assessor must contact the property owner about the best means of making the property record file available to the taxpayer prior to such telephone conference.
  6. Property owners that have not asked for an informal meeting or that have already had an informal meeting must be allowed to provide information to be considered by the assessor to determine the final value of the property through the last business day of February, 2015.

Additionally, the ruling ordered the assessor to contact property owners that have already participated in an informal meeting to offer the opportunity for a second meeting that complies with the above procedures. Finally, the ruling ordered the parties to the lawsuit to negotiate on a process by which taxpayers can obtain relevant assessment documents and information going forward.

Judge Bataillon’s ruling likely will lead to a more transparent valuation process, which will benefit Douglas County taxpayers. If you have questions regarding this article or the ruling discussed herein, contact the author or any member of the McGrath North Tax Group.