WAHOO – Processing continues on nearly 80 applications for financial help after the March flood as the deadline for final decisions nears.
The Saunders County Board of Supervisors, acting as the Board of Equalization, discussed the Report of Destroyed Real Property forms, also known as Form 425, during its meeting July 16.
Saunders County Assessor/Register of Deeds Rhonda Andresen said they have received 79 applications from property owners claiming to have suffered significant damage as a result of the flooding that took place in March. Some property owners filed more than one application. In all, there are about 40 owners who did so, Andresen said.
Andresen said a decision must be made on these applications by July 25 by the Board of Equalization, not the County Assessor’s office, according to state statute.
The Nebraska Legislature passed LB 512 during their most recent session to allow property owners to request an adjustment to the assessed value of their real property due to significant property damaged caused by a calamity on or after Jan. 1 and before July 1 of the current assessment year. The Nebraska Department of Revenue defines a calamity as a natural event, such as a flood or tornado. Significant damage is damage exceeding 20 percent of the assessed value of the land or improvements.
The possible adjustment in valuation is only effective for the current assessment year, according to the state revenue department. Andresen told the board that they will have to reevaluate the properties that are approved for readjustment before Jan. 1, 2020.
“We’ll have to look at it again to set the valuation,” she said.
According to state statute, property owners were required to file the forms with the assessor’s office and the county clerk. In Saunders County, the assessor’s office helped process the forms for the equalization board at their request, but they do not make the final decision, Andresen said.
"They asked us to go look at it and that's what we're doing," Andresen said a day after the meeting.
Andresen told the board that her office has had a difficult time processing some of the applications.
“We have been doing the best that we can to see if there’s damage,” she said.
In cases where the application shows a damaged house or other structure, the process is fairly simple, said Head Appraiser Kyle Morgan.
“That’s easy to inspect,” he said.
It’s when the application deals with ground where it gets difficult, and the majority of the applications deal with ag lands, Andresen said.
Andresen said they cannot see most of affected ground to see the damage first-hand because the ag land is currently covered in crops. And viewing the property alone may not provide enough information to measure the amount of damage, Morgan added.
“There isn’t visual availability to do this,” he said.
Andresen also said many of the applications do not have photos or detailed descriptions of the damage, which also complicates the process.
“If there’s no proof, there’s nothing we can suggest to be done,” she said.
The Board of Equalization discussed denying applications that lack specific information. LB 512 states that the burden is on the reporting property owner to provide sufficient evidence to allow the board to determine damage.
County Clerk Patti Lindgren said applicants have 30 days to protest the decision.
“If there is no documentation, we have to deny and give them 30 days (to protest),” said Supervisor David Lutton.
It was previously reported that the county could extend the deadline for the final decisions until Aug. 10. But the state statute provides that option only for counties with a population over 100,000, Lindgren told the board.
Board members suggested the assessor’s office staff separate the rest of the applications into categories, such as structural damage or damage to the land itself, and work from there to continue processing.
Board of Equalization Chairman Scott Sukstorf suggested the county pay for extra personnel to process the applications before the deadline.
“We need to hire somebody to go out and look at this stuff,” he said.
Andresen said the timing of the Report of Destroyed Real Property forms is also been a challenge. They come during the time of year that property owners protest their valuations. And on top of that, her office is short-handed by one staff member, she added.
No action was taken on the applications by the supervisors. Lindgren said the issue was a discussion-only item on the agenda, but the equalization board was scheduled to vote on the applications on Tuesday. Go to www.ashland-gazette.com for updated information.