County property valuations skyrocket

Arizona Daily Star
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
Joseph Barrios

During last year's hot, sweaty real estate boogie, Jim Malone was a wallflower.

Malone was sitting the dance out in his South Side home, where he and his wife have lived for the last 52 years and raised their two daughters.

Last week, he felt a little of the vibration from the dance floor when he received his property valuation for 2007 from the Pima County Assessor's Office.

Malone's valuation increased by 30 percent, not that far above the average increase for county homeowners.

The 2007 valuation was based on home sales that occurred during the second half of 2004 and the first half of 2005, when the market saw explosive price increases. Pima County homeowners can expect to see an average increase of about 19 percent, said Jim Crane, the county's chief deputy assessor. That's a sketchy average, Crane said.

That's on top of an 11 percent increase in valuations mailed out last year.

Whether the Assessor's Office valuation means higher taxes won't be known until next year. Local governments that set the tax rate could choose to lower tax rates.

Malone's 2007 value was $96,420, a 30 percent increase over his 2006 value of $74,169. Last year was no fun either, when his 2006 valuation increased approximately 10 percent from $67,760. Malone, who paid about $640 in property taxes in 2005, will have to pay an additional $250 if tax rates remain the same.

"I've got to admit, it was kind of a shock," said Malone, a 74-year-old retiree. "That just seems like, to me, that's an unfair increase."

Pima County Supervisor Ramon Valadez said he has heard from several residents, mostly retired people, who are concerned about their tax bills. He said it's too early to say whether he would move to lower the tax rate.

"We've heard from people with fixed incomes. Mostly seniors. One of their fixed costs is going up," Valadez said. "I think we, at this point, need to take a look at what kind of impact that has on some of our homeowners in Pima County."

Could affect tax bills

Last year, supervisors decreased the tax rate by about 3 1/2 cents to $5.46 per $100 of assessed value. The city of Tucson's tax rate rose from $1.18 to $1.24 per $100 of assessed value.

Although the Assessor's Office normally has an average percentage increase prepared to share when it sends out notices, the office didn't have that information last week because the staff was busy trying to get valuations in the mail, Crane said.

"Some (valuations) could go up more if they make improvements," Crane said. "The main value increases are still on the North and Northwest Side, and they're going up anywhere between 20 and 30 percent on the Northwest Side."

But actual changes are "all over the map," Crane said. Some neighborhoods on the far East Side will see increases as low as 15 percent and as high as 30 percent. The average increase in Midtown will hover around 18 percent. Crane said he saw one house in Ajo that actually fell about 2 percent.

"You're going to find anomalies all over," Crane said. But those "30s" are out there.

Valuation for Rob Ameln's 2,300-square-foot home near West El Camino del Cerro and North Silverbell Road in the Tucson Mountains increased about 30 percent, from $257,228 to $334,398.

Ameln said he has appealed his valuations for the last 10 years and was successful only once. The retired child welfare worker, 58, plans to appeal but doesn't have much hope.

The assessment on plant pathologist Michael Pfeiffer's three-bedroom house near East Grant Road and North Tucson Boulevard increased 30 percent, from $143,000 for 2006 to $186,000 for 2007.

"It may just be the market's gone up that much, but it seems like a lot of money," he said. "It's like the assessor is in the speculation market."

Taxpayers now have until April 28 to file an appeal, according to the assessor's Web site. The office has until Aug. 15 to file a response.

Homeowners often don't realize that the cards that showed up in the mail last week will have an impact next year, said Tom Naifeh, a consultant with the Sage Tax Group. The time to act is now.

Appeal process available
"If they feel like they're being treated unfairly, they should file an appeal," Naifeh said. "I've seen people who file and then never show up for the hearings because they get intimidated, and that's too bad. It really isn't an intimidating process."

While Malone said he's going to appeal his valuation, he expects he will pay hundreds more if tax rates aren't lowered by local taxing entities.

Malone hasn't seriously thought about selling his home. A diabetic, he lives off his Social Security and a small annuity. His saving grace is that his house is paid for.

While there are some opportunities for relief — like exemptions for qualifying widows and totally disabled persons, or tax rate "freezes" for some seniors — more needs to be done, Malone said.

"At my age and what not, I can't afford to go to another home," Malone said. "I think we need to get some sort of special arrangement for older people."