"Taxpayers with multiple properties, and tax professionals, will generally find the site is worth the fee. Properties can be accessed by the PVA's parcel identification number and also by the owner's name or the property address."
With the January, 2003 merger of the Louisville and Jefferson County governments, Louisville/Jefferson County became the largest metro area in Kentucky. As a result, property owners in Louisville and unincorporated areas of the county now pay real property taxes to the metro government. In addition, the owners in the 83 suburban cities in the metro area may continue to pay city property taxes, similar to those that were assessed prior to the merger.
Regardless of a property's location, tax assessments are made by the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator (PVA). Tony Lindauer assumed the office after the November, 2006 election. The Jefferson County PVA's office has consistently been one of the most professionally-administered offices in the state, and it appears this distinction will continue under Mr. Lindauer's administration. Taxpayers in the Louisville Metro Area need to be aware of the services offered by the Administrator's office and use them to alleviate their property tax burdens.
The PVA's website, found at www.pvalouky.org, provides an invaluable tool for taxpayers and tax professionals. In October 2006, the website won the Web Marketing Association's 2006 Government Standard of Excellence Web Award in a competition with over 2,300 other entries.
While certain information can be obtained from the website at no charge (such as parcel identification numbers and current assessments), the majority of the information is only available by subscription — $25 per month or $300 per year. Taxpayers with multiple properties, and tax professionals, will generally find the site is worth the fee. Properties can be accessed by the PVA's parcel identification number and also by the owner's name or the property address. The site provides information on the current assessment, including: a breakdown by land and improvement values; property characteristics, including acreage, building square footage and construction; sketches and photographs of the improvements; assessment history; sales history; and links to the current year's tax bills.
This information helps taxpayers challenge their tax assessments. Verifying the data on which the Administrator's office based their assessment represents one important use of the information. For example, the PVA often calculates the square footage of a building based on an exterior measurement that may not reflect the actual or usable square footage. Then, too, the possibility exists that the PVA holds incorrect information regarding some characteristics of the property, such as the percentage of an industrial property with HVAC. If the Administrator's office possesses incorrect information, the taxpayer can provide the correct information and likely obtain a tax reduction.
The PVA has underway the reassessment of nearly all the land in Jefferson County, so taxpayers may be seeing significant increases in their assessment. In some areas, 2006 land assessments increased by over 25 percent from the previous year. The PVA's values are backed by a "land study" of recent sales, but this does not mean a taxpayer lacks recourse. In some circumstances, land values can be challenged. A taxpayer may have paid a premium for a particular tract of land due to considerations such as location or market coverage (often the case with banks, service stations, etc.). Thus, the sales price might not be equivalent to the "fair cash value" (the standard for assessments in Kentucky). In such cases, a taxpayer can use the PVA's website to gather sales data on nearby tracts of land in order to demonstrate that the taxpayer paid more than "fair cash value" for the property, and that the assessment should be reduced accordingly.
For possible tax savings, owners also need to analyze the assessed value of their improvements by using depreciation or other obsolescence factors. For example, the Administrator's office placed a value on a building based on the value stated in the building permit at the time of construction. Depending on the type of building (usually industrial or warehouse properties), the taxpayer may be able to argue that the value should be decreased to account for normal or abnormal wear and tear (physical depreciation). Arguments for lower valuation also exist when changes in the market occur for that type of building (economic obsolescence) or when outdated or unusual features of the building make it less marketable (functional obsolescence).
The Jefferson County PVA now requires taxpayers who challenge their assessments to sign an affidavit stating an opinion of value for their property. While it has been customary for a taxpayer challenging the assessment to make a declaration of value, the fact that the PVA now demands that the taxpayer swear to that value is somewhat troubling, since filing a false affidavit could result in criminal penalties. If asked to complete the new form, taxpayers need to insure that their opinion of value rests on a reasonable basis.
The affidavit also calls for the property owner to attest that all of the taxpayer's property has been listed with the Administrator's office. This appears to put a taxpayer in the position of guaranteeing that the PVA has picked up any additions or expansions to the property. While Kentucky law always required a taxpayer to "list" all property with the PVA, this affidavit seems to put an even greater burden on the taxpayer.
The Jefferson County PVA's office remains one of the most user-friendly offices in the state. A taxpayer dissatisfied with his or her assessment should not hesitate to contact the office about protesting an assessment. By providing the Administrator's office with the right information, a taxpayer may be able to obtain a reduction in an assessment, and in any case, can get a full and satisfactory explanation as to how the Administrator assessed the property. The PVA's office offers taxpayers their first chance to obtain a property tax reduction, but remember, good documentation is critical.