Taxation Vexation: Property tax basics

The Arizona Republic
Friday, May 10, 2013
Catherine Reagor

As home values crashed after the housing bust, many property owners thought one consolation would be a corresponding drop in their property taxes. Why that didn’t happen is the subject of a four-day Arizona Republic special report, “Taxation Vexation,” that will publish beginning Sunday.

To prepare you for the series, here’s some background on the property-tax system in Maricopa County.

Question: What government agency determines the home values used to calculate owners’ tax liability?

Answer: The Maricopa County Assessor’s Office annually sets a value for approximately 1.2 million single-family houses in the county, based on a cursory review.

Q: What does the assessor’s valuation mean for homeowners?

A: The assessed value determines the homeowner’s share of taxes levied by government entities. The home’s value is multipled by a variety of tax rates — for schools, government, water districts and any other special taxing districts — and the totals add up to the taxes owed.

Q: When do Maricopa County homeowners receive an annual valuation?

A: By late February or early March. The valuation is based on the year before.

Q: When are valuations used to calculate property taxes?

A: The valuations are used about 18 months after homeowners receive them. For example, the home valuation received in spring 2012 will be used to calculate an owner’s taxes in fall 2013.

Q: Why the lag between property valuations and taxes?

A: The time lag gives property owners time to appeal and taxing districts time to set their rates based on their budgetary needs. Appeals can be made by all homeowners.

Q: Can homeowners appeal their property taxes?

A: No, homeowners only can appeal their valuations.

Q: Who sets property-tax rates?

A: Local government entities and school districts set tax rates based on their budget needs.

Q: When are property-tax rates set?

A: During May and June for the fall property-tax bill.