Home selling prices keeping taxes propped|[02/12/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It’s possible that a decline in a home’s selling price could lead to a lower assessment and property taxes, but that’s not what’s happening in Warren County.

Average home sales, in numbers, remain on an upward slope in Vicksburg even in the face of crashes in the credit and mortgage loan business and the nationwide housing slump, Deputy Tax Assessor Jim Agent said Tuesday. A dip in prices would take years to show up on tax rolls.

Addressing the local chapter of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees, Agent said the average selling price of homes in Warren County is between $130,000 and $140,000 — the range which saw the largest increase in the last federal Census in 2000.

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As for countywide totals, new developments such as new hotels and casino improvements pumped up land values countywide for the fifth straight year in 2007, nearly 8 percent over 2006. Absent a steady stream of similar building, Agent said, the local trend of rising values and property taxes could slow down.

While saying real estate prices are “going down right now,” Agent said property taxes and land values don’t always slide on the same scale.

“Simply put, it depends on what the appraisal was four years ago on the property,” Agent said.

In Warren County, reappraisals of one-fourth of parcels are conducted annually. Because property values overall have been rising, so have property taxes on those parcels — even without city, county or school officials increasing rates of taxation. For example, this year new properties on the tax rolls and higher assessments are adding about $800,000 to school revenue.

On homestead property, the discount program available to a property owner’s main residence, parcels are assessed at 10 percent of the true value. On other property, including commercial, agricultural and rental, it is assessed at 15 percent. Property held by public utilities are assessed at 30 percent. Tax bills in Warren County result from multiplying that figure by the millage rate, currently 83.94 mills. Including city and school taxes, mills total 119.82.

Agent said if appraisals were about equal with market values the last time a sector of the county was reappraised, actual value may go down.

“It all depends on four years ago,” Agent said, adding areas around Porters Chapel Road extending southeast to Lee Road have seen the most high-dollar home sales.

“Areas there like Audubon Hills, Turning Leaf have had a lot of sales turnover,” Agent said.

A majority of those areas’ parcels were included in the 7,000 or so reappraisals for 2007, a zone covering just north of downtown south to Warrenton Heights off U.S. 61 South and east to East Clay and Mississippi 27.

This year, the Tax Assessor’s Office will reappraise eastward from there, along U.S. 80 and further southeast into the county.

Total values from the 341,674 acres of land assessed in 2007 reached $293,814,841. Personal property such as homes and mobile residences were assessed at $196,830,528, up about 4.5 percent in the past year.

Those with properties valued at $75,000 or less must file for homestead exemption in order to receive it — a total that has stayed relatively constant in recent years.

Tallies show 11,359 filed for the break in 2007, including 3,753 exemptions granted to homeowners older than 65. In 2006, 11,443 filed for the exemption.

Agent said Warren County’s total millage compares favorably to surrounding counties, citing as examples Hinds County at 172.14, Yazoo County at 185.34, Issaquena County at 144.5 and Madison County at 119.78.

Claiborne County’s millage of 107.95 is blunted by revenue supplied by Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station, Agent said.

As for assessment practices overall, one seen by many as taking into greater account what happens around a property rather than with it, Agent said the sampling-like methods will continue to be used to set property taxes.

“We see what (adjacent properties) are selling for. We hear both sides of the coin,” Agent said.

Agent, 61, has worked 43 years in county government, including nearly 17 years as deputy tax assessor. He ran for assessor in 1999, finishing third with 22 percent in a race. Tax Assessor Richard Holland was re-elected to a fourth term in November, receiving 64 percent of the vote.