(Fargo, ND) -- Fargo City Assessor Michael Splonskowski spoke with WDAY Radio about appraising homes in the city, how they track property information and ownership, and speaking about misconceptions the department often faces from taxpayers.
Appraisal and Property Value
The Assessment Department appraises the values of all 36,000 parcels of property within Fargo. The value is then sent to another city department to calculate property taxes applied to those properties. The value is determined through "mass appraisal techniques", which analyzes the sales of similar homes across the city and attempts to ensure a fair market rate at the point of sale for a specific property. Appraisers within the office also review and value individual homes to ensure the data for the mass appraisal techniques is up-to-date and accurate.
"The City Assessor's Office, what we do is put values on properties,"said Splonskowski, "At that same time, as we are looking at that value, we are looking at the sales that have occurred on those same types of property and making sure it is matching up with the sales."
Splonskowski says it is impossible to correctly evaluate each of the 36,000 homes every year, which is the reason why they use the mass appraisal techniques. Splonskowski ensures residents who feel the property value of their home is incorrect can be reassessed by the city. He says this won't always lower the value of the property, but will correct any inaccuracies in place. Appraisers are also able to enter properties within the city about once every five years, with the permission of the homeowner, to evaluate the home and determine an individual property value. However, Splonskowski says individual home evaluations have become challenging because fewer and fewer city residents are allowing appraisers on properties.
"A better way to put it is 'how often do you get into the homes during reappraisal. Last year it was twenty percent of the time we got in," said Splonskowski, who added that the usual rate hovers around fifty percent.
Property Lines, Tax Exemptions, and Record Keeping
The Assessors Office also holds and records data related to properties across the city. The records show the ownership, the addressing, value, possible exemptions in place, and various other statistics and information relevant to the property. Much of this data is shared with Cass County, but some data is specifically put together and distributed to the correct places by The Assessors Office.
Two of the most common tax exemptions are are homestead credits, which apply to low income seniors or disabled individuals, and remodeling exemptions. Properties that are twenty-five years or older which are renovated can be exempt from the additional value the property gains, effectively acting as a tax cut for the duration.
You can learn more about data collected by The Assessor's Office by clicking here.
As stated earlier, The Assessment Department appraises the value of homes within the city but does not determine the property taxes. This is important, because it is something assumed often enough by Fargo residents that there is a video on their homepage addressing concerns about property taxes on homes, even though The Assessment Office does not set property taxes in the city. Splonskowski says the department is also asked about special assessments on a frequent basis, a topic which he says "is not even in the same ballgame" as what their department does.
"As far as the specials go, that is a completely different department within The City of Fargo as well, it's not even in the same area...we are not connected with them, other than that we both work for The City of Fargo," said Splonskowski.
When it comes to increasing property values, which in turn have a potential to increase property taxes, Splonskowski says it is better for their office to raise values than have a state organization raise those values instead. He attributes this to the appraisers in Fargo being "closer to the market", knowing the values of the home much more, understand the local markets more clearly, and tend to increase the rates in an incremental manner rather than a sudden rate hike.
"They will ask us 'why are you continually increasing the values'. We are continually increasing the values because the market is continually increasing, and if we don't keep up with the market, we could get in trouble with the state," said Splonskowski, "The state has steps they can take, and they have... where they can come in and just raise the value, to come into compliance...So we would prefer that those who understand the market the best, at least in this role, are making the adjustments in a proper way so that people are being treated fairly [and] we are also in compliance with the state - instead of the state coming in and saying 'okay, you are low, everybody goes up by twenty percent."
You can learn more about Fargo's Assessor's Office by clicking here.