The Equalization Process
The most important role of the County Equalization Department is to ensure that the county-wide tax burden is distributed equally among all townships and cities within the County. This is done by making sure that the real and personal property in the respective townships and cities have been equally and uniformly assessed at an average level of 50% of true cash value.
This is a year-long process that begins at the local units. The local assessor is responsible for ensuring that there is equity between individual parcels. The Equalization process uses sales and appraisal studies to make sure there is equity between property classes in each township and city throughout the County. The State then follows County Equalization to ensure equity among all the counties within the State.
The Equalization Cycle
The Equalization Cycle begins in May and culminates with the Equalization Report presented to the Board of Commissioners in April of the following year. As part of this cycle, the Equalization Department processes deeds and other recorded documents to maintain the property ownership and ownership information. The splits/combination of parcels are also processed in Equalization. For the 2022/2023 Equalization Cycle this means approximately 4,500 documents and over 160 splits/combinations.
Following are some of the steps taken throughout the year.
May through October
The local Assessors review properties and work with property owners to establish any exemptions that they are entitled to. These exemptions include PRE (Principal Residence Exemption) for those property owners who reside in Cass County as their main residence. The Assessors use the State Manual to establish values of the buildings and land by parcel within their township or city.
At the same time, the Equalization field staff (Assessing Solutions) is also reviewing and visiting selected properties to establish value for the land and buildings within Classifications such as Residential, Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial. The field staff measures buildings and land to establish value just as the local Assessor does.
November and December
Equalization completes sales studies for Residential properties and Appraisal studies for Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial properties throughout the County. These studies along with studies done by the Assessors, help the Assessors know how to adjust the property values within their unit so that all properties are valued at 50% of True Cash Value. Equalization must also complete Land Value studies to show the value of the different types of land within the County (Agricultural, Residential, Commercial and Industrial). Economic Condition Factor (ECF) studies are also done to help adjust the building values given in the State Manual to the value of those buildings within Cass County.
The County Equalization studies, Land Values and Economic Condition Factors must be completed and given to the local Assessors and the State Tax Commission by the end of December.
December 31st is considered “Tax Day”. This is the final day for value. The Assessor must establish the value of all parcels as of this date. This is important for buildings that are only partially constructed or that have been removed from a parcel. These values will be used for the following year Tax Cycle.
The local Assessors use the County Equalization studies along with their own studies to set the values for all parcels within their Township or City for the new year. This information is gathered in a complete listing called an Assessment Roll.
Equalization received the Assessment Rolls for each Township and City from all local Assessors. The Equalization Director audits the rolls to verify that all parcels are assessed correctly between 49% and 50% of True Cash Value. If errors are found, the assessor may correct them.
During this month the Equalization Department also processes and prints the Assessment Change Notices for the Townships and Cities to mail to the property owners. These notices explain the Assessed and Taxable Value of each property for the upcoming year. This also gives each parcel owner the chance to appeal to the Local March Board of Review if they do not agree with the values assigned by the Assessor.
March Board of Review takes place giving the parcel owners the opportunity to protest their property values, file for Poverty Exemption or for Veteran Exemptions. After the March Board of Review is completed, the Board members sign the Assessment Roll and the values are set for the upcoming year. The Assessors then submit the final Assessment Roll to Equalization for a final audit.
Equalization gathers and analyzes the Township and City information to create the County Equalization Report for the Board of Commissioners to review and approve. This approval is then sent on to the State for final review. The State then gives final approval in May to set the Assessed and Taxable numbers of all parcels for the new year.