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Property Taxes May Be Affected

December 7, 2013
By MIKE MYER , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

What would we in this area of West Virginia do if as much as one-fourth of the local funding for our schools, municipalities and counties was wiped out? It is not beyond the realm of possibility, thanks to something Congress did last year.

Despite the thousands of policy analysts and bill writers we taxpayers provide, presidents and members of Congress often don't think about the local consequences of their actions. Perhaps they know and just don't care.

As we have reported, the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2012 already is having drastic effects on some local residents and businesses. As a result of the law, the cost of federal flood insurance will be escalating - as much as 15 times current rates - for many people whose homes and businesses are in federally designated flood plain areas.

That will be quite a hit on the pocketbooks of many people, including a substantial percentage of Ohio Valley residents and business owners. But it already is having another effect.

Let's say you're planning to buy a home. You want an existing structure. Your real estate agent gives you a list of homes on the market, along with information such as asking prices and ongoing costs - utilities, taxes, insurance - for them.

First to be crossed off your list are homes where the cost of flood insurance is skyrocketing. Why pay a couple of hundred dollars a month - or more - for flood insurance when you could buy a home out of the flood plain and put that money into mortgage payments?

The federal law is going to make it extremely difficult to sell some properties. One man told me he wants to sell a home in Benwood, but already has been told by a real estate agent that will be next to impossible.

In other words, thousands of Ohio Valley homes and business properties suddenly are worth much less than they were a few months ago.

Connect the dots: Property taxes are based on market values of real estate (or are supposed to be). So, if a home or business is worth much less than it was before the flood insurance change, the taxes should go down.

That could have drastic consequences for schools and other local government entities that depend on property tax revenue. One estimate I heard this week is that one-fourth of the parcels of taxable property in Ohio County are in flood plains.

Property affected by the law will not become worthless, of course. At some point, if you reduce your asking price enough, a buyer will step forward.

But you may have to slash the amount you receive for your property by thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.

If you own flood plain property, you may not be able to afford to move.

It has been suggested the flood insurance changes should be delayed or even rescinded. There does not seem to be much interest in that in Congress.

That may leave local taxing bodies - county commissioners in West Virginia - besieged by property owners demanding their taxes be cut. They will have good cases to make.

Even a 5 percent reduction in property tax revenue would hurt boards of education, city councils and county commissioners.

No one can say how the issue would play out in the courts, where it almost certainly would go if flood plain property owners don't get the dramatic cuts in taxes they may seek. Again, however, the property owners are going to be hurt badly, and their arguments for lower taxes make sense.

We'll see.

After an immigration judge ruled this week that President Barack Obama's uncle, Kenyan-born Onyango (Omar, for short) Obama can stay in the United States, the White House was quick to state no one there pressured federal officials to keep the uncle from being deported.

Well, of course not. No one had to issue such a directive.

Would you want to be the bureaucrat who ordered the deportation of someone named Obama?

Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

 
 

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