Assessment case goes to council

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Marcia Nelesen
Thursday, July 18, 2013
JANESVILLE—Back in 2011, resident Williams Hesser told a Gazette reporter he would consider protesting his Janesville property assessments as a matter of principle.
Monday, the Janesville City Council will be asked to accept settlements to lower Hesser's business and personal assessments by about $1 million and issue rebates totaling $48,205 for taxes paid on three properties in 2011 and 2012.
During a portion of the Janesville Board of Review in 2011, Hesser protested the assessment of his home at 2436 Oak Brook Court.
Hesser presented evidence he thought would bolster his claim that the $545,700 assessment should be $411,000. At the time, he questioned how a fair assessment using comparables could be made when only one house sold during that time in his area and it could not be considered a comparable.
Hesser said he didn't believe he could sell his house for $411,000 but was willing to settle for that as an assessment.
The board of review did not agree.
After the hearing, Hesser said he might pursue his challenge further, especially after seeing the evidence the assessor's office presented.
He later filed a lawsuit in Rock County Court protesting that assessment and assessments on the Hesser Toyota car dealership at 1811 Humes Road and Hesser Hyundai at 2009 Milton Ave.
Residents who dispute assessments can schedule appointments with the city assessor during open book sessions. They also can take their cases before the board of review.
If the board disagrees, residents can appeal to the board itself or to the state Department of Revenue. They can also file suit in court.
To dispute assessments, residents must wait until the end of the year to receive their taxes based on the assessments. They must pay the taxes and file claims against the city by the end of January.
The city denied Hesser's claims, and he filed suit.
David Moore, Hesser's attorney, said the potential agreement lowers the Toyota assessment from $2.842 million to $2 million, the Hyundai dealership from $1.157 million to $1.1 million and Hesser's home from $560,000 to $475,000.
Moore said he prefers a settlement instead of a trial because the court doesn't just review what the board of review did.
“You get a fresh kick at the cat in the sense the court decides the fair market value,” Moore said.
Moore said Hesser hired an appraiser after litigation began.
The potential agreement also includes a settlement on 2013 taxes, Moore said.
A trial had been set for the end of August.
Few residents take their claims as far as Hesser, Moore said. That's because the difference in the assessed value of a home, for example, is often not worth the time and expense involved taking it to court.
“It's a question of looking at taxes over the long term as opposed to taxes in any one year,” Moore said.
“Unless the assessment is so far skewed or unless the property has an extremely high value, it isn't going to net a return on taxes in any one year to make it cost effective to challenge it,” Moore said.
The Gazette was not able to reach Tim Wellnitz, assistant city attorney, for comment Thursday.

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