AN OVERVIEW OF THE HEARING AND
APPEALS PROCESS FOR SALINE COUNTY
The property tax appeals process we have to work with today has evolved over the years since it was first established in 1989. At that time the new values from the reappraisal project were mailed. Along with the legislation that provided for the reappraisal and the appraisal maintenance programs that we have today, a hearing process was established. The following is an explanation of the steps in the process that now exists.
Informal Hearing with the County Appraiser - This is the first step in the hearing process. This step is provided for in the statutes by K.S.A. 79-1448. Within 30 days following the mailing of Change of Value Notices, a taxpayer can contact the County Appraiser to schedule an informal hearing. This step in the process is mandatory for continuation to further appeals. The purpose of the informal appeal is twofold. First, it is a chance for the taxpayer to hear from the County Appraiser what process and justification was used to establish the current value. The taxpayer has an opportunity to ask questions about the appraisal of his property, about the comparable sales, or any other subject pertaining to the appraisal process. Secondly, it is a chance for the taxpayer to convey any information to the Appraiser that he thinks is pertinent to the appraisal of the property. The Appraiser has an opportunity to ask for any information from the property owner that he thinks will help him make a well informed decision about the value of the property.
Small Claims - The second step in the appeal process is the small claims division of the Board of Tax Appeals. By law all appeals of single family residential properties must go to the small claims division before appealing on to the full Board of Tax Appeals. Commercial and multi-family residential properties with a value of less than $2,000,000 may bypass the small claims division and go directly to the full Board. Agricultural properties and all other properties with a value of $2,000,000 or more must bypass the small claims division and go directly to the State Board of Tax Appeals. At this level the appeal is heard by a hearing officer who is an employee of the Board of Tax Appeals. The taxpayer, or the taxpayers representative, as well as a representative of the County Appraisers office, appear before the hearing officer in an informal setting. Both parties present their respective cases and the hearing officer renders a decision on the facts presented. No record of the hearing is made and the evidence is not preserved for future appeal processes.
State Board of Tax Appeals - Also known as BOTA, the State Board is a five member, quasi-judicial body assembled for the purpose of hearing appeals from the appraisal process as well as exemption claims and other matters of taxation. The Board meets in Topeka as well as in the various counties depending on the complexity of the case. For residential properties, one or perhaps two Board members will travel to a county and conduct hearings for properties in that county or other counties nearby. For commercial properties, or other complicated hearings, taxpayers are asked to travel to Topeka where the Board meets with all five members present for the hearing. In any case, all five board members participate in the decision making process for all hearings. The hearings themselves are formal and are similar to a court hearing. A record is made of the hearing and the hearing is de novo, which means that no evidence is brought from prior hearings and all evidence is considered to be new. A taxpayer may represent themselves, or be represented by council. The County is required to be represented by council.
This current process, informal, small claims, and Board of Tax Appeals, is available to all property owners. A property owner can enter this process at one of three times. The first opportunity is in March when the change of value notices are mailed. The second and third times are when the first and second half taxes are due. The only limiting factor here is that a property owner can only enter the process one time, and when the process is started you must follow through to the highest level you desire. If you discontinue your appeal at any given level, you cannot resume or start over.
The only step in this lengthy process over which the county appraiser has much control is the informal hearing process. Due to either statutory requirements, or administrative regulation, the county appraiser is required to do several things. The county appraiser is required to hold informal hearings between March 1 and May 15. No informal hearing result can be mailed after May 20. These dates can be extended by order of the Director of Property Valuation. Per the statutory language cited above, the county appraiser is required to produce documentation to support the value he has placed on the property being appealed. Finally, he is required to notify the property owner of the results of the appeal and to provide a written explanation of the reasoning if the results are not in favor of the property owner.
In Saline County the informal appeal process meets all of the statutory and regulatory requirements and in addition we hope to do some additional things. As was stated in the beginning of this narrative, we hope to accomplish two objectives. The first is to meet and exceed the statutory requirement that we provide documentation and explanation to support the value we have placed on the property. Secondly, and of equal importance, we hope to get information from the taxpayer that will give us a better understanding of all circumstances key to a better valuation process.
Each property owner who wishes to schedule an appeal is given a time on the schedule that is mutually agreeable to both parties. Within a few days a confirmation letter is mailed along with a brochure concerning the appeals process. For residential properties, a comparable sales report (comp sheet) is also enclosed. As each property owner arrives at the County Appraisers Office, he is given an interview form upon which he can state what value he is asking for and what questions or comments he has about the property. This gives the appraiser a written record of the taxpayers concerns. At the beginning of the hearing, the appraiser should take a moment to review the physical characteristics of the property to ensure that they are substantially correct. If they are, the appraiser and the property owner can discuss the appraisal process, the taxpayers evidence if any, or address any other questions the property owner may have. After the hearing is complete, the appraiser will take all of the information into consideration and make a decision,which is mailed to the property owner within five to ten working days.
Hearings for one parcel are allocated fifteen minutes. Property owners with more than one parcel are allocated more time but generally not more than an hour regardless of the number of parcels. Although fifteen minutes does not sound like a lot of time, it is generally adequate. The schedules usually have gaps in them so that if one hearing goes long, the time can be made up. Also, appraisers will take hearings from each others schedules to keep the office on time. Hearings are held between the hours of 9:00 AM and 3:45 PM. Monday through Thursday. Fridays are reserved for appraisers to do field checks and research for parcels that he has done during the first part of the week. Telephone hearings are also done and we exchange information by phone, or fax.
Every effort is made to explain the process, answer questions, and consider all information given by the property owners. We recognize that for many property owners, the appraisal process is directly related to the taxes that they will have to pay, and that can be a very emotional issue. Occasionally the hearing is nothing more than being willing to listen to concerns about property taxes, or taxes in general. Further we recognize that for many people, this is the only forum they feel that they have to bring other governmental related grievances to light. Given this situation, there are some ground rules that all parties must adhere to. We do not allow appellants to become verbally abusive or to continuously use foul or profane language. Neither do we allow appellants to make threatening statements. Any of these actions, when done repeatedly, or in a decidedly serious manner will result in the ending of the hearing and the person will be asked to leave.
We realize that the hearing and appeals process can be daunting for some. For all however,we hope that the experience is a positive one. While we cannot promise to lower everyone's value, we can strive to achieve a positive exchange of information and understanding of the appraisal process.