WHEELING - To offset an increase in property value assessments, Ohio County Assessor Kathie Hoffman wants to encourage levying bodies to decrease their tax levy rates - or at least keep them stable.
Hoffman said 5,800 letters were mailed to property owners Jan. 3 to inform them of 10-percent increases.
"Ohio County was instructed by the state of West Virginia Property Valuation Training and Procedures Commission to 'immediately begin a study to update the land tables for residential, commercial and farm land valuation to reflect current market value.' We have complied with the state's instructions and thus the increase in values. Several counties in West Virginia have received similar letters and have increased their values or are in the process of doing so," Hoffman said.
Photo by Shelley Hanson
Ohio County Assessor Kathie Hoffman works in her office Wednesday.
She said because of the 10 percent property assessment increases, she intends to talk with the levying bodies - which include the Ohio County Commission, the Ohio County Board of Education, city of Wheeling and other municipalities in the county - to see if they would be willing to drop or keep levy rates the same to compensate for the assessment increases.
"No one ever wants to increase values, but all assessors must answer to the West Virginia Property Valuation Training and Procedures Commission. We must be within 10 percent of the current market value. Market value is determined by recent sales and in Ohio County we have seen a substantial increase in sales. This is great for the economy of Ohio County," Hoffman said.
Hoffman added the county is seeing an increase in the growth of oil and gas wells, with 29 now operating in the county.
"Even if the rates stayed the same or decreased 1 mill, it won't do any damage to anybody," Hoffman said.
Hoffman said since the letters went out, she has held 25 informal meetings with people about the increases. After she explains the process, most people understand, she said.
"The phones lines are burning up," she said of people calling about the values.
After talking with Hoffman, those who still want their property value changed can request a formal public hearing before the county Board of Review and Equalization. That body, which consists of county Commissioners Randy Wharton, Tim McCormick and Orphy Klempa, is scheduled to host hearings through Feb. 28.
Hoffman is hoping the public will help in her campaign to get tax levy rates lowered or stabilized. People can call or write letters to their council members, commissioners or school board members. Tax levy rates for 2014 will not be set until May.
"The economy is good now, but at some point it's going to fall down after the oil and gas people leave," Hoffman said.
The Ohio County Commission has not raised its tax levy rate for the past 17 years.
"We have no intention of raising our tax levy rates. We don't need to have a meeting with her -we fully understand that tax values are up," Commissioner Randy Wharton said. "We are well able to operate the county based on the income we know we will have. ... We have one of the lowest levy rates in the state."
As far as a decrease, Wharton said the commission "would have to take a look at that."
Michael Klug, Wheeling's finance director, said he has worked for the city of Wheeling for 12 years and its levy rates have remained the same during that time.
Other levying bodies in the region already have taken action in reducing tax rates. For example, because of an increase in its tax base in 2013, the Marshall County Commission reduced its tax levy rate by 11.1 percent last year.
"We base our values on recent sales, and in Ohio County there have been lots of sales," Hoffman said. "When land is at a premium it makes it more valuable."
Ohio County's personal property and real estate assessments totalled $1.513 billion in 2013.