The Tax Man Cometh

Very soon–much too soon for my taste–my wife and I will be back at work, molding the youth of America. When we go back, Wolfe will start his own educational adventure at day care. I’m not sure I’ll be ok with it emotionally, but at least I wasn’t worrying (too much) about it financially, because I’m adding a new duty at school this year and the extra pay should have covered the cost of day care.

Should have, until we got our new property tax information. We actually own two properties (it’s a long story, one that makes me cranky to tell). They both had a projected increase in taxes; one of them–a rental property–to the tune of over $2,000 per year. Not good.

My wife and I decided we would protest the assessments and get our taxes lowered. We marched into the assessment office prepared to wage battle. And battle, my friends, was waged.

First came the war of attrition. Our appointment was for 2:30. We arrived at 2:25. We waited until after 3:00 while they called all the people whom they had over-scheduled throughout the day.

Next, after this brief lull, came the first skirmish. “Dan” took us back through the warren of cubicles and explained to us that, as this was an informal appeal, he couldn’t actually change valuation information–just note any particulars of our houses that were incorrect. To actually protest with the purpose of changing valuation, we’d have to file a formal appeal.

We’ll do whatever it takes, we said.

The deadline for filing a formal appeal on the property where you live expired yesterday, he said.

So when we scheduled this appointment last week the deadline for a formal appeal wasn’t expired, but the person on the phone scheduled an informal appeal for the day after it expired?

You got it, Dan said. Sorry about that. It explains all this in the four page, 10-point font, single-spaced data packet you received.

[To break aside from the play-by-play here, it’s not Dan’s fault. In fact, Dan isn’t actually employed by the county. He’s a temporary worker for the assessment company, and when the assessment push is over he will go back to his job at Boscov’s department store. See, Lebanon County hasn’t done a complete reassessment since 1972. Some people decided (and rightly so) that since certain properties had been reassessed due to repairs or remodeling, maybe all of them should be. However, it’s also not the taxpayers’ fault the county hasn’t reassessed since 1972. Leveling the playing field sounds great, but it hurts. And now they’re doing it, with no easing in–those 1972 prices are going up to 2012 prices, and the property taxes are going right along with them. All at once.]

So, back to the fray. The contest then began in earnest.

Dan said, We’ll just go through these data screens to make sure they’re correct.

We corrected some data. Residential apartment building? No, it’s where we live, and it’s been a single-family residence since at least the last time the property value was assessed. Finished attic? Only if you count splintered boards and mouse turds as finishing. Terrace above the front porch? Only if you want to crawl out the tiny bathroom window to stand on it.

And the rental property going up $2,000? Not built in 1957 (much older, roughly 1925). Also, it doesn’t have a “shop.” That’s actually a garage.

Great, Dan said. Let me just give this info to the appraiser to correct the data screens.

My wife and I, battered and bruised, took advantage of the respite to rebuild our munitions…and our spirits. Wolfe cried briefly. To be honest, so did I.

Dan returned, grim-faced.

Bad news. A residence is worth more than a multi-unit apartment building. Oh, and a garage is worth more than a shop. Both property values (and the associated taxes) went up. Turns out we could affect the valuation/taxes–and we had. Just not in the direction we’d hoped.

We humbly accepted our defeat. We still have a small chance with our rental property, but it involves a “formal” review which will take place sometime after we’re back in school. This will, I’m sure, make me even more cranky, since they’ll probably schedule it on a day/time when one or both of us has to burn personal time to go deal with it.

[Another aside: we’re actually lucky enough to have jobs. I don’t know what retirees on fixed incomes, or the unemployed/underemployed are going to do.]

So if anybody wants to buy a house, or alternately wants to take me out to drown my sorrows, let me know. I’m cranky!

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One comment

  1. Any time you have to deal with government bureaucracy, you’re screwed. I feel your pain. Nice post!

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