BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – Brian K. Rice was alarmed. He says some business colleagues in downtown Ensley told him they had received Jefferson County property valuations that rose sharply, in some cases hundreds of percentage points, equivalent to thousands of dollars in property taxes.
He said he held an emergency meeting last Saturday to speak with property owners about the importance of protests against the valuations ahead of the July 28 deadline. Rice says his review of property sales in the area showed him that the most dramatic leaps in value like his were clustered around the Ramsay-McCormack building, which the city of Birmingham was demolishing as part of a long-awaited renovation project.
“That means you’ve got used to paying your taxes at a thousand dollars for 10, 20, or 15 years,” says Rice. “And then in two years it suddenly jumps to $ 2,000 and then to $ 5,000. And then you ask yourself what’s going on? “
What is going on is the impact of Jefferson County’s mass appraisal process on a hot real estate market, according to David Ogden, the county’s chief appraisal manager.
“We examine all sales in the respective valuation zone,” says Ogden. “Based on these valuation zones, we are required by federal law to be within a median of 98-102 of the sale price value for that group of sales within that particular valuation zone.”
Maria Knight chairs the Jefferson County’s Equalization Board, which sets property values across the county.
“The Alabama Code requires us to send out valuation notices every time the value increases year over year,” says Knight, who says notices go to owners whose property lines have changed. Knight says about 3,000 home owners protested their ratings, which is a little less than normal.
At the beginning of this year, the Compensation Committee began sending letters instead of the familiar yellow 3×5 cards to inform the owners of the valuation changes. For those who want more precision in the process, Knight says it’s still the most efficient way to cover the county’s 799 neighborhoods right now.
“It’s important to remember that we have over 320,000 packages in Jefferson County,” says Knight. “That’s why we unfortunately don’t have the opportunity to see them as often as we would like, nor do we have the opportunity to have access to the inside most of the time. In this way, the taxpayer can send us documents at any time throughout the year. It won’t affect this year’s tax bill, but it’s something we can analyze for next year. “
Knight says a number of areas in the county saw growth similar to Ensley, including parts of Homewood, Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook, as well as the Crestwood neighborhood of Birmingham and the rapidly changing area along the Rotary Trail on the eastern edge of downtown .
Knight explains that because property taxes are paid in arrears, the reviews the property owners have just received – and which may be difficult – for the period from October 2019 to September 2020. So the April Ramsay-McCormack demolition didn’t work out in incorporate the evaluations just received from the property owners.
Back at Ensley, Rice remains frustrated that property value can soar dramatically in a seemingly random manner in a community that has struggled for decades to attract development.
“When I look at the condition of the buildings, many of them have never changed in the last 20 or 30 years,” says Rice. “And we shouldn’t see one or two randomly jump 500%, two or three taxes jump 400% … and then next door we have a 5% increase and a 10% increase. Whatever it should be, it should be fair. “
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