ST. JOHN TOWNSHIP — Large increases in home values has many St. John Township residents up in arms and trekking to the township assessor’s office to file an appeal.
In a letter to The Times, Ann Noldin asked, “Are they trying to drive us out of St. John Township?"
Noldin said the notification she received at the beginning of August stated the value of her Lakeview Subdivision property had increased $58,000 in the past year, although she made no improvements to it that would account for the 22-percent increase. After talking to some of her neighbors, she found they, too, had received similar sticker shocks, some worse than hers.
If Noldin were considering selling her property, the assessed value might be considered good news, but she plans to stay there, which means the biggest impact will be on her property taxes.
“I’m on a fixed income, and it gets to be a bit much,” she said.
“The house is the same as it always was 20 years ago when we bought it. The last assessment was $270,000, and I could understand it going up 5 or 10 percent. I understand the housing market is good. My son built the house, and I love the property and don’t want to move, but if it’s going to go up like this, I might have to move.”
Township Assessor Debbie Watson said more than 80 people have filed appeals so far, and she encouraged anyone concerned about their increase to come to the office, and township staff would assist in filling out the appeal form. The deadline to file an appeal is Friday.
The assessment was done by Nexus Group, a Zionsville, Indiana, company hired last year by former assessor Melody Kikkert, who resigned a year ago to take a job in the private sector.
Watson said part of Noldin’s increase was from the reclassification of her fireplace from prefab, which was how former assessor Hank Adams had listed it, to masonry. That increased the value of the home somewhat, but the rest of the increase was due to the hot market for homes in St. John Township in the past year, Watson said.
Lake County Assessor Jerome Prince said the only other places he’s noticed dramatic increases were a couple of neighborhoods in Hammond. He said his office will look at all the appeals and check the sales prices to make sure the changes were justified.
Prince believes part of the problem is people still have not made the connection between assessed value and market value, which is what it is based on. The assessed value is supposed to reflect the price a willing buyer would pay for the property.
Full reassessments are done on a four-year cycle with a quarter of the more than 7,000 properties in the township done each year. The values of the rest of the properties are based on a method called trending: A sampling of home sales in each neighborhood is checked by Nexus to determine the trend in sale prices. Then all the reassessments are based on that trend.
Watson said the assessed value of her home went up about $9,000, because it’s an older home in a diverse neighborhood of new and old homes and apartments. She said the values of some older homes were not updated over the years to reflect improvements, such as new roofs, furnaces, additions or remodeling. Nexus is correcting those changes as well.
Another Lakeview resident said her home’s assessed value went up $60,000, to more than $300,000.
“I almost fainted,” she said. “That’s a lot of money."
Both she and Noldin have filed appeals at the township office. Watson said the appeals are forwarded to Nexus, and the company will be required to justify any increases of more than 5 percent. If residents still aren’t satisfied, they can take the appeal to the county or the courts.
Property taxes are allocated to each taxpayer proportionate to the value of the taxpayer's property and the amount of spending by local government within the tax district.
A 2015 Times story noted those living in unincorporated St. John Township enjoyed the lowest rate — less than $1.69 per $100 per assessed value. Eagle Creek, Cedar Creek, West Creek and the rural portions of Ross Township have rates under $2 per $100 assessed value. In 2015, Gary and East Chicago remained at the top of the chart with tax rates of more than $6 per $100 assessed value.
Noldin said she is concerned with what happens if her appeal isn’t heard before she has to pay her property taxes based on the higher amount next May.
“Nobody is going to be happy about this,” she said in her letter. "We need to stand together on this."