Property Taxpayer Goes Extra Mile In Challenging Assessment Value

By Jeff Neumeyer

August 30, 2010 Updated Aug 30, 2010 at 5:37 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, IN (Indiana's NewsCenter) --- Nobody looks forward to paying property taxes, but when the bill arrived for one Fort Wayne homeowner this year, he chose not to roll over and write the check without a fight.

Mahlon Houlihan’s persistence and preparation in his challenge of a finding by the Wayne Township Assessor’s office could well serve as an inspiration to other taxpayers.

Houlihan, who lives at 2449 Randall Road on the Westside, was a bit dumbfounded when he received notice from the Wayne Township office that for his 2009 taxes payable in 2010, his property was valued at $221,000.

The assessment the year before had been $172,000.

The 28.3% increase came in spite of the fact he made no home improvements, and the majority of properties in his immediate neighborhood showed no real change in their values.

When Houlihan called for an explanation, officials told him they compared his to three other homes at least two-and-a-half miles away, ranging in value from $190,000 to $250,000.

Mahlon Houlihan/Appealing Property Assessment: " Those were ones that were favorable to them in their calculations. I was able to submit to them nine properties that I found much closer to this address. They were very similar in structure and characteristics that ranged anywhere from $120,000 to $180,000, so, anybody can pick a number, I think, and you've got to watch out for yourself."

Houlihan didn’t stop there.

Instead, he paid for an independent appraisal that valued his property at $145,000, and he took his case to a property tax assessment board of appeals.

His detailed presentation gives the board a lot to consider before the scheduled issuance of a ruling on September 16th, where the assessment could be lowered.

Administrators with the Wayne Township office say there’s not enough time to meticulously analyze 40,000 properties in the township, and that’s why they follow a mass appraisal approach, looking at sales prices within a neighborhood or comparable neighborhoods to arrive at the median sale.

That helps establish property value for assessment.

Wayne Township Assessor Bev Zuber says her office strongly encourages property owners to take an active role in the process like Mahlon Houlihan did, and she says if you're not happy with your assessment value, the appeal process is in place for your benefit.

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