By Peter H. Milliken
Some $547 million in Mahoning County real-estate value has vanished in a sluggish economy since the last mass appraisal six years ago, but relatively few property owners showed up early for first-day consultations at the county’s reappraisal information center.
In the first three hours the center was open Monday morning in the first-floor auditorium at Oakhill Renaissance Place, 345 Oak Hill Ave., only two property owners appeared for consultations with appraisers and the county auditor’s staff.
That number grew later in the day to a total of 22 noncounty employees for the entire day, plus several dozen county employees working at Oakhill, said Jacob Williams, the county’s information technology director.
The center in Oakhill’s north wing, reached through Entrance A, will also be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and Friday of this week for face-to-face consultations.
Between 8 and 10 a.m. Monday, the auditor’s staff took only 11 calls on the auditor’s telephone information line, 330-740-7909.
The total for the entire day was 94 calls, said Cheri Donofrio, director of taxation in the auditor’s office.
The tentative values for all 166,000 parcels of county real estate were posted Monday morning on the county’s website, www.mahoningcountyoh.gov.
The auditor’s real-estate website, which had more than 1,000 hits Monday, saw a 200 percent increase over its normal business day traffic, Williams said.
In the mass appraisal, the tentative total market value of all real estate countywide fell 4.2 percent from $13 million to $12.5 million.
The market value of residential real estate was down 7.4 percent countywide, but agricultural rose by 3.5 percent; commercial rose by two-tenths of 1 percent; and industrial gained 1.8 percent.
Ken Jones, an appraiser with Integrity Appraisal Services Inc. of Niles, which performed the appraisal for the county, said the low demand for consultations on Monday contrasted sharply with his experiences in 1999 and 2005, when long lines of property owners awaiting the meetings.
At that time, overall real- estate values were rising, and owners were concerned that would mean higher taxes, Jones said.
Today, with overall values falling, owners may believe their taxes will also fall, he said.
However, in the complex tax-determination process, higher values don’t necessarily result in higher taxes; and lower values don’t necessarily result in lower taxes, he said.
Although a value drop generates fewer inquiries from owners than a value increase, Jones said a drop would clearly be unfavorable news for someone planning to sell a real-estate parcel.
“Maybe, as time goes on, and more people get more information, they might tend to question some of the values,” Jones said, referring to Monday’s low taxpayer turnout at Oakhill and the prospects for more inquiries later.
Jones urged anyone planning to visit Oakhill to make an inquiry to check his or her old and new property values and property characteristics listed on the website before visiting Oakhill.
Any changes in real-estate taxes based on the reappraisal will be reflected beginning with the first-half tax bills to be sent out in February 2012.
Tax amounts won’t be known until January after the state sets each community’s rates and the county auditor calculates taxes for each parcel based on those rates.
The appraisers actually viewed each of the county’s land parcels from the exterior and made their appraisals based on fair market value, not the cost of replacing a structure, Jones said.
“It’s market-driven, what the market is willing to pay for that house,” he said.
Appraisers set values for each property based on the age and condition of any structures, the value of any new construction and recent sale prices for similar properties in the same neighborhood, said Richard Barrett, another Integrity appraiser.
State law requires that each county perform a comprehensive real-estate reappraisal every six years.