Equalization: Washtenaw Property Values Rise

After several years of reporting declining tax revenues, Raman Patel had good news for Washtenaw County commissioners: Stronger signs of economic recovery, reflected in a 1.68% increase in taxable value. Patel, director of the county’s equalization department, briefed commissioners on the 2013 equalization report at the board’s April 17, 2013 meeting. The board later unanimously approved a resolution accepting the report.

Equalized (assessed) value is used to calculate taxable value, which determines tax revenues for the county as well as its various municipalities and other entities that rely on taxpayer dollars, including schools, libraries and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, among others.

For 2013, taxable value in the county increased 1.68% to $14.2 billion. That’s an improvement over declines seen in recent years, when equalized value fell 0.76% in 2012, 2.85% in 2011 and 5.33% in 2010. It’s also an improvement over projections made when the county administration prepared its 2013 budget. The general fund budget was approved with a projection of $60.9 million in tax revenues. But actual revenues, based on 2013 taxable value, are now estimated at $63.236 million – for an excess in 2013 general fund revenues of $2.327 million. Patel stressed that at this point, the taxable value is a recommendation and must be approved at the state level.

Patel also presented tentative taxable values for specific jurisdictions. The city of Ann Arbor shows a 3.34% increase in taxable value, while the city of Saline’s taxable value is a 3.97% increase over 2012. All but six municipalities showed an increase in taxable value. Those municipalities with decreases include the city of Ypsilanti (-0.38%) and Ypsilanti Township (-2.53%).

Properties in the Ann Arbor Public Schools district – which includes the city of Ann Arbor and parts of surrounding townships – will see a 2.32% increase in taxable value. Properties taxed by the Ann Arbor District Library, covering a geographic area which in large part mirrors the AAPS district, increased in value by 2.11%.

Taxable value is determined by a state-mandated formula, and is the lower of two figures: (1) a parcel’s equalized (assessed) value, or (2) a capped value calculated by taking last year’s taxable value minus any losses (such as a building being torn down), multiplied by 5% or the rate of inflation (whichever is lower – this year inflation is 2.4%), plus the value of any additions or new construction.

In 2013, several categories of property saw increases in equalized value for the first time in years, according to the report. Commercial property showed a 2.2% gain in equalized value, compared to a 3.84% decline last year. It was the first increase in commercial property values since 2009. Residential property value – the largest classification of property in the county – showed an increase of 2.37%, gaining in value for the first time since 2007. Last year, the equalized value for residential property had dropped 0.57%, and had registered a 2.74% drop in 2011.

Last year, agricultural property had been the only category that showed an increase. Growth continues in 2013, but at a slower pace. Agricultural property registered an 0.67% increase in equalized value this year, compared to an increase of 3.54% in 2012.

Industrial and developmental property values continue to struggle. Those were the only categories to register a decline in 2013. Industrial property showed a drop in equalized value of 4.78%. That compares to a 3.99% drop in value last year. Over the past few years that category has lost significant value, falling from an equalized value of nearly $1 billion in 2007 to this year’s value of $421.72 million. Developmental property – a relatively small category that covers properties not yet developed – had a 7.12% drop in equalized value.

Patel noted that countywide, about $418 million is captured by local downtown development authorities (DDAs), local district finance authorities (LDFAs), brownfield tax increment financing, and other entities that are allowed to capture funds from taxing jurisdictions. For Washtenaw County’s alone, $2.405 million goes to these other tax-capturing entities that would otherwise be revenues for the county’s general fund.

Though the news was positive, Patel cautioned that the loss of the state personal property tax – which Michigan legislators repealed last year – could ultimately result in a loss of more than $5 million in annual revenues for the county government alone, and more than $40 million for all taxing jurisdictions in Washtenaw County. The tax will be phased out starting in 2014 through 2022. As part of that change, a statewide voter referendum is slated for 2014 to ask voters to authorize replacement funds from other state revenue sources.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]