GCN Special Report
Burden on Homeowners to Reduce Property Taxes on Katrina-Destroyed Homes
By Keith Burton – GCN Filed 7/26/06 Updated 8/7/06
Another storm is coming for some Coast property holders who suffered extensive damages on their homes or lost them entirely from Hurricane Katrina last August.
County tax assessors have since Katrina been working to determine the overall property tax losses stemming from destroyed homes and businesses. In Harrison County, officials have largely determined the losses in areas along the beach and in Henderson Point, and have made adjustments to the amount of taxes those homeowners and businesses will pay. Officials say around 5,000 property owners have already had their property taxes adjusted, but that leaves many more who will need to file for an update, or file a petition to amend their assessments.
The burden for filing to amend the value of their Katrina-destroyed property is on the property holders and the deadline to do so is September 1.
Harrison County will start holding hearings on property tax changes this month. But residents will have to file with the county to get a hearing, or they will receive a bill for taxes on property that represent its former value. The best way to get information on the process is to visit the county’s website, or call the county tax assessor.
Harrison County collects both property taxes for county residents as well as the cities. The local governments depend upon these taxes for schools and operating income and as you might expect, the hurricane has cut deeply into that money. This has county and city governments throughout the area adjusting budgets downward for their next fiscal year, and starting in August, officials will begin assembling their budgets based upon the money they anticipate receiving. This is no easy task in a normal year, as the figures are always estimates, but is even more difficult now as the absolute figures on how much they will make on taxes is the result of a “best guess.” The county is required by state law to have their assessments determined no later than September 1st.
Harrison County currently estimates that their overall income for the upcoming year will be around 18 to 19 percent less than in 2005. That figure is substantial but earlier in the year it looked much more bleak. The losses overall in percentages for the individual cities are as follows:
Biloxi – 27 percent
Gulfport – 19.6 percent
D’Iberville – 18.9 percent
Pass Christian – 52 percent
Long Beach – 23 percent
Harrison County officials tell GCN that the 5,000 property owners who have already received an adjustment in their property taxes are people that were surveyed by the county since the hurricane. Another 3,000 to 5,000 are anticipated to participate in tax hearings over the coming month. But that figure could be significantly higher. There are property owners out the area that are just now realizing they will have to file, and there are property owners that have not been contacted by an assessment team, who may want to file. The hearings are a slow, tedious process that will be a burden for the property owners who have to be present at the hearing. Harrison County has over 99,000 assessed parcels of property.
The best solution for residents who need to have their property revalued is by filling out the “Hurricane Relief” forms that are available online from the county’s website. By filing the forms that are online, property owners may be able to avoid having to attend a tax hearing.
Property taxes for many homeowners with a mortgage are automatically collected as part of their mortgage payments and are paid usually during December and January. As a result, this money is collected in portions all through the year. So, many homeowners are seeing last year’s taxes already being collected in the full amount. They may be entitled for a refund, but they will have to file a petition to have their property value amended.
It is likely that there could be a substantial number of property owners who may choose to wait on paying their taxes. Property owners have up to three years to pay before the county can foreclose on the property due to failure to pay taxes.
If the amount of money collected by the county and cities fail to meet the projections, officials will have to amend their budgets further downward and cut expenses and services.
There are other income sources that can offset the loss of property taxes for cities. Cities receive a portion of the sales taxes that are collected by the state. And the recovery has increased the number of new homes and subdivisions that are coming on the tax rolls, which offsets some of the losses from the Katrina-damaged areas.
For Harrison County, the board of supervisors already know that they will not be doing any capital projects, except for projects that are part of a bond issue. This means the county will not be repaving roads or putting in new water and sewer services. They have also decided not to provide any donations to service organizations as they have done in the past.
Harrison County Tax Assessor Phone Number: 228-865-4043
Harrison County Revised Assessments (by the numbers)
Jackson County Tax Assessor Phone Number: 228-769-3199
Hancock County Board Tax Assessor Phone Number: 228-467-4425