Gloucester County has seen a net decrease in real estate property values of $87.7 million after the county’s Board of Equalization (BOE) adjusted valuations of just over 1,000 parcels. According to the BOE report that was released last week, the board met March 15 to May 4 hearing appeals on 1,588 total parcels.
Of those appeals, the BOE reported reducing values of 981 parcels and increasing 38. This left a total of 569 parcels unchanged.
The decreases left a net loss of revenue to the county of $508,462, according to Gloucester Commissioner of the Revenue Kevin Wilson.
The report, compiled by the five BOE members Patricia Snyder, Danny Stuck, Marshall Cook, William Fenstermacher and Jennifer Patterson, said that "The ability to visually examine the properties enabled the (BOE) to conclude that, in 85-90 percent of the appeals presented, there were clear errors in the assessment."
However, the BOE remained optimistic that because of the county’s ability to develop a number of "very powerful" tools such as clear, aerial photography, property line overlays and automated valuation models, the accuracy of the assessing process will improve.
The BOE report concluded that though many property owners had attended the assessor’s review hearings, their information was either not accepted or considered, leaving as their only recourse an appeal to the BOE.
"Many of the cases that were appealed to the (BOE) would have been resolved if adequate time had been allowed for the assessor’s review," the report concluded. "The board strongly feels that real property assessment is a technical process that does not benefit from the involvement of elected officials. The board believes that the 2010 reassessment suffered from a lack of resources committed to the task, including specifically a lack of sufficient competent staff and a lack of continuity in management."
Looking to the future, the BOE "developed a very strong consensus that many more errors in the 2010 assessment still need to be corrected and can be corrected by the County Assessor as factual and clerical errors," said the report. "Due to the sheer number of appeals filed, the (BOE) simply did not have the time to expand its review beyond the cases appealed."
The BOE report later detailed several areas noted as primary cause of the appeals that were filed with it. The report stressed, however, that the housing valuation model developed during the course of the reassessment appeared to value consistently residential structures and that there were very few appeals of residential building values. "Those appeals that did occur generally resulted from errors in the data entered into the assessment model and were quickly resolved once the correct information was substituted."
The BOE report included several areas that it felt sparked the highest number of appeals, as follows.
—"Errors in data contained in the assessment records of individual properties contributed to a significant number of assessment errors. If the data entered into a computerized assessing model is incorrect, then the assessment will also be incorrect. Errors in information about properties can only be corrected by diligent review of each individual record and, ultimately, a physical visit to verify the data. While aerial photographs and parcel overlays are valuable tools, they cannot completely replace the judgment of a competent assessing official.
—"Related to data error, and perhaps only by way of additional emphasis, it is very important that all parcels in the county be reviewed by an assessor. The (BOE) heard many cases where a personal review, even if only by examining aerial photographs, would have immediately resolved the appeal.
—"Valuation models used in the reassessment process are not yet fully, and perhaps not properly, developed. The sense of the (BOE) is that the attempt to create valuation models resulted in models that are not too precise for the task. The number of parameters associated with certain models often produces values that did not seem to be reasonably related to the market."
—Finally, it reported one issue that was beyond the control of the county—the state of the economy and the real estate market at both the local and national level. Such large fluctuations in property values over the past four years created a difficult environment in which to carry out a general reassessment.
In conclusion, the report states that the BOE believes that a biennial assessment, properly done, will over time result in an assessment for the citizens of the county that is more uniform and more reflective of market value. "However, the (BOE) believes that two or three additional reassessment cycles will be necessary to resolve the many issues involved."
The Board of Equalization believes that as many as 250 appeals could be given proper consideration by a BOE during the time period established by the county’s ordinance.
County Assessor Reese Milligan outlined future goals of the assessment department to the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors in its meeting June 1. In his presentation, he noted that "some aspects of the model need to be refined." He said the tools the assessment department has developed can be used to further define properties that will better lead to grouping and application of value. He also said the data used by the model and the valuation results have to be field-verified on a large scale.