Reappraisal increases property values, taxes
By Philip Moulden
In a move that won't hit home for many until January, Lee County implemented a four-year real property reappraisal in 2000 that boosted average property values 30 percent.
For many, that meant a tax increase of roughly the same amount on their homes and businesses. For a few, tax hikes were much higher.
And many people over age 65, or disabled, found themselves owing property taxes for the first time in years. State law exempts elderly homeowners from paying taxes on the first $60,000 of their homes' values, but reappraisal raised the values of many homes above that threshold.
Lee County's reappraisal was ordered by the state Tax Commission four years ago and all 82 Mississippi counties must complete similar revaluations by 2002.
County supervisors and Tupelo City Council members quickly slashed tax rates to ease some of the impact on landowners. Lee County's rate was cut by almost 15 percent while Tupelo's was reduced almost 12 percent.
The budget needs of Lee County and Tupelo school systems also permitted tax rates related to their funding to fall.
But because property tax rates must be applied to all taxable property, and only the values of real property (land and buildings) were affected by reappraisal, the tax cuts could not offset the rise in property values.
Thus, land and buildings had to shoulder a bigger part of governmental budget needs this year, a fact not recognized by many homeowners until tax bills started going out a month before year's end. Some may not even recognize the change unless their mortgage payments rise to rebuild escrow funds.
Responses were varied among other municipalities in the county, but none raised basic tax rates.
Taxpayers should recoup some of their real property tax outlays when they buy license tags for their automobiles. Lower tax rates apply to car tags as well, meaning licensing vehicles costs less as of Oct. 1 when fiscal year budgets started.
In the future, Lee County will revalue a quarter of its properties each year so that the entire reappraisal process is repeated every four years.