By SHAWN FOUCHER
Nearly 390 property owners think the Erie County Auditor’s office has overvalued their property by a collective $103 million.
The owners of the most valuable properties are sitting on commercial or retail land with assessed value they want decreased by millions of dollars in some cases — a request sure to trigger opposition from area school districts.
Monday kicked off the months-long review process where Erie County property owners can appeal to the county’s Board of Revisions in hopes of lowering, or occasionally raising, the assessed value of their homes, buildings or land.
The three-member Board of Revisions is hearing appeals filed by 405 people, a process expected to last until at least August.
The vast majority of property owners — 389, in fact — believe the auditor’s office overvalued residential, industrial or commercial buildings in a real estate market that has been abysmal for years.
Even so, the majority of residential property owners stand a fair chance of seeing the auditor reduce their property value if last year’s appeals process is any barometer.
Last year, the Board of Revisions granted 65 percent of the requests to lower property values. Residential owners made up about 90 percent of the 305 appeals made last year.
Taking the typical home price as an example — those worth $90,000 to $150,000 — the auditor lowered values last year by an average of $23,000.
But this year’s batch of appeals may prove more dicey.
Owners of industrial, retail and commercial properties are often the ones asking for the greatest decreases in property values.
Of the $103.2 million in arguably “overvalued” property, $70.8 million comes from the 25 most valuable properties among all 389 requests for decreases in property value.
Many of them are non-residential, such as Maui Sands, Wal-Mart, 2509 Hayes (owner of the Kyklos Bearing International building), Automotive Components Holdings, IAC and dozens more.
Just 13 property owners are requesting increases in value, while three are requesting values to remain flat.
Two of the top three most expensive properties where owners are seeking a lower assessed value are tied to the troubled Maui Sands development.
On one Maui Sands parcel assessed at $13 million, a court-appointed receiver for Brighton Manor Co. is asking the value to be set at $1.7 million, an $11.3 million decrease.
On another parcel, the court-appointed receiver for Maui Sands Resort Co. is asking the $7.2 million value to be lowered to $1.9 million, a $5.3 million decrease.
“They’re going to be countered by the schools,” Erie County auditor Tom Paul said. “Then there will be settlements after that.”
The Maui Sands properties present an especially difficult situation, given that the property is attached to a special tax district where property taxes are used to pay for infrastructure improvements, Paul said.
The receivers of the failed water park may want the value lowered to decrease the tax liabilities, but that makes it nearly impossible for the county to generate enough money from property taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements — if the land is ever purchased and used to its full potential.
“It would get wrapped in legal processes,” Paul said. “And Perkins Schools would probably file a counterclaim to that.”
The county’s Board of Revisions is the first step for owners who want the assessed value of their property lowered. If denied, they can appeal to the state’s Board of Tax Appeals or file a case in Erie County Common Pleas Court.
On Monday, the Board of Revisions listened as about a dozen owners of residential or rental properties requested their property values be lowered.
Vermilion residents Maria and Martin Klein were among them, suggesting their Edson Street home be valued at $168,500 instead of $187,300.
The home is in a floodplain and emerald ash borers are decimating their ash trees.
The Kleins will also be chipping away at $18,000 in tax bills attached to their property because Vermilion City Council decided to move ahead on a sidewalk installation program and stuck homeowners with the bill.
On top of that, Martin Klein was laid off for 17 weeks from his job as a steelworker last year.
“All this stuff just kept piling up,” Martin said. “A lot of people got hammered with (Vermilion’s) sidewalk assessment.”
There is a deeply human story connected to every appeal made to the Board of Revisions — stories of layoffs or pay cuts, foreclosures or health problems.
Paul said the Board of Revisions tries to stick to the raw facts of the property’s value when making its decision.
“I’m a resident of Erie County, too, though,” Paul said. “There are people living here who have a lot of things that have affected them.”