EQ activity mirrors county’s property markets

June 11, 2010
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The Kent County Bureau of Equalization department’s indicators are a reflection of the economic times, especially the current status of the local real estate market.

The EQ department closely tracks five areas regarding real and personal property that the department is active in, and in four of the five areas its activity has fallen over the past three years.

The department’s number of on-site property appraisals, personal property audits, and tax descriptions and map updates were down in 2009 from 2007. By far, though, the most dramatic percentage drop over that period occurred in the number of commercial and industrial sales EQ personnel appraised. In 2007, they appraised 300 sales. But by 2009, they only appraised 106 and that figure represented a drop of nearly 65 percent from 2007.

Only one activity rose by almost 9 percent during those years and that was the number of sales the EQ department processed. Those numbers, however, included foreclosure sales. So the total number of sales processed rose by 16 percent in 2009 from 2008 and by 5.4 percent in 2009 from 2007, the same year the housing market collapsed under the weight of too many subprime mortgages and the economy weakened even more in Michigan because of that collapse.

EQ Director Matt Woolford made those numbers public last week before members of the county’s Legislative Committee. He told them that market values have been trending down the past few years and that tax assessments are a lagging indicator of what is going on in the market. But for this year, his department expects the number of tax descriptions and map updates to rise slightly and the number of sales appraisals for commercial and industrial properties to also creep up by a notch or two.

“There’s not a lot of activity going on out there,” he said.

The number of employees in the EQ department was reduced by three for this fiscal year, leaving Woolford with a total of 17. He told Commissioner Stan Ponstein that his personnel can audit most of the taxing authorities in the county across most of the property classes to ensure that assessments are within statutory limits and property owners aren’t being double taxed. “With the way the economy is today, we are able to stay current,” he said.

But Woolford added that his staff isn’t large enough to completely audit residential assessments and changes to properties, like the addition of backyard decks, in Grand Rapids.

When Commissioner Bill Hirsch asked if property values had bottomed out, Woolford said it looked like some of the downward pressure on housing values has slowed but he hadn’t seen any upward pressure yet. Woolford also said values in the commercial and industrial markets haven’t hit the bottom yet. He told the committee that he was currently pouring over the most recent real estate data.

There are 70 taxing units in the county, including organizations like the Interurban Transit Partnership, library systems and downtown development authorities. There are also roughly 250,000 parcels in the county and the EQ department has to keep track of each one.

“As I’ve said many times, Kent County is a giant puzzle and we piece that together,” said Woolford. “It’s our job to make sure those pieces fit nicely.”

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