Reviews mixed on new Sebastian County property assessments

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 484 views 

Depending on who you talk to, new Sebastian County property assessments are either “way out of whack” or are good reflections of property value changes in the past five years with a few “outliers” that will eventually be corrected.

The Sebastian County Equalization Board is entering the last few weeks of reviewing proposed five-year countywide property assessments that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2016. The nine-member Board met Tuesday (Aug. 25), and plans to meet again on Aug. 31, Sept. 2 and Sept. 9 to review petitions filed by property owners who challenge assessment increases. The deadline to rule on petitions is Nov. 15. The Sebastian County Assessor’s office only sent notices to property owners with assessment increases. All commercial, industrial and residential tracts in the county were reassessed.

Sebastian County Assessor Becky Yandell and employees with Total Assessment Solutions Corp. (TASC) said during Tuesday’s meeting they are making changes where errors were made, but that’s part of the five-year review process. TASC, in business almost 30 years with offices in Arkansas and Oklahoma, has had people in the county since 2008. This is their second assessment for the county.

Tuesday’s meeting provided two examples of the things they are working to correct. Pham Quy Dinh, who owns property at 5808 Steep Hill Road in the Country Ridge Estates, had a lot reassessed at $58,000. Dinh provided the Equalization Board documents showing comparable sales and other info in his request to reduce the assessment to $47,000. Equalization Board member Bob Costner agreed with Dinh’s info.

“He’s right. I pulled six comps in the area and it’s way to high,” Costner said.

The Board voted unanimously to grant Dinh’s request.

That was followed by Ken Colley, a long-time property appraiser in the county, who several years ago bought apartments and a two-acre parcel at 3409 S. 66th St. in Fort Smith. The deal price was $625,000, although the property had been assessed at $1 million. Colley said he recently tried to sell the property and the highest offer he received was $520,000. He did not sell the property.

The new assessment for the property is $550,000. Colley said he was able to get TASC to make changes, including recognizing that the apartments were almost 40 years old. Colley also said the county and the Equalization Board need to “take a little bit of a closer look” when property sells to reconsider the value.

“This has been on the on the books for $1 million,” Colley said. “The property is not worth that … and hasn’t been for years.”

Because of state law, the Equalization Board could not change the prior assessment, but the Board did vote to encourage Yandell to reduce the assessment on Colley’s property to $484,000. Yandell said the change was “fair and equitable” and she’d make the change.

However, Equalization Board member Jimmie Taylor, with Jimmie Taylor Realtors in Fort Smith, said many assessments are “way out of whack.” He said during Tuesday’s meeting that “somebody’s not paying attention to where the ground sits and what it is used for.” He also alleged that residential assessment changes indicate that the county is “sticking it to the poor” and giving lower values to the rich.

In an interview after Tuesday’s meeting, Taylor provided an example of where TASC has “missed the boat” on comparing properties. The Averitt Express truck terminal at the corner of Zero Street and Arkansas 45, a more attractive and visible high traffic area, has a lower assessment than a FedEx facility just south that is off a main corridor and within a commercial park.

“This is going to get worse. We haven’t even got to what is wrong all along Rogers Avenue,” Taylor said of the busiest commercial avenue in Fort Smith.

But Costner, who now works as an appraiser with First National Bank of Fort Smith and who has appraised property in the area for 40 years, said there are a few tracts that need corrections, but “there are no real problems” with the overall assessment. He also praised the TASC crew, saying they have been quick correct legitimate errors brought to their attention.

“They’ve always been agreeable with me. … We will have areas that have problems. There are always outliers that skew things, but they (TASC), I think, they have done a good job,” Costner said after Tuesday’s meeting.