Valentine's Day wasn't all hearts and flowers for Gila County property owners.
Feb. 14 was also the date the county mailed out notices of value containing the numbers that will be used to compute your property taxes for 2003. Taxes for 2002 are based on property values determined and sent to you last year.
According to Gila County Assessor Dale Hom, the next important date to remember is April 15 the deadline to file an appeal if you disagree with the values the card contains. A petition for review of valuation form may be picked up at the Payson office of the Gila County Assessor at 201 Frontier behind the Sheriff's office.
But before you look at your notice of value and rush to file an appeal, there are some things Hom wants to make sure you understand.
"People need to realize that it is the Arizona Department of Revenue that keeps cash values current, and that it's usually based on sales in the area," Hom said. "When a house is first built, (the county sends) out an appraiser to determine full cash value or market value. If a building permit is issued later (for a deck, for example, or other improvements or additions), we revisit the home and make adjustments.
"Otherwise the state department of revenue looks at each area each year based on sales. They keep it current."
The full cash value is used to compute your secondary property taxes taxes set by special districts, fire districts and bond issues. These are, for the most part, taxes approved by the voters.
Listed below the full cash value on your notice of value is a limited value. This is the number used to determine your primary county taxes, which are set by local entities and cover the basic expenses of maintaining and operating the school district, community college district, and town, county and state governments.
"All property must be valued at full cash value," Hom said, "and the limited value cannot exceed the full cash value."
What you will notice, though, is that the gap between your full cash value and limited value will narrow the longer you own the property.
"New buyers are given a break, but then it goes up," Hom said. "How fast the gap closes depends on the economy. "If the economy is strong, property values go up faster and by more."
But when the economy is stagnant or weak, full cash value can stay the same or actually decline. Then the gap between full and limited value will narrow faster.
"If you own the property long enough," Hom said, "limited value will eventually reach full value."
In the meantime, your limited value can only go up each year by either 10 percent or 25 percent of the difference between last year's limited value and the current full cash value whichever is greater.
The actual tax rate is determined by the government entities in your area by the Town of Payson if you live in town, by Gila County if you live in an unincorporated area, by the Payson Unified School District if you live within its confines.
Tax bills are sent out twice a year on May 1 and Oct. 1.
The numbers on those bills are the ones to be concerned about, not the numbers on your notice of value, Hom said.
"If the (government) entity doesn't need that much more money to operate (than the previous year), then when cash values go up in an area tax rates should go up less, or maybe even go down," he said. "It's really a balancing act, like a scale. Don't get me wrong, property values do relate to your tax bill, but it's not a direct correlation by any means."
According to Gila County Finance Director John Nelson, county residents are paying an average of $751.25 in property taxes for fiscal year 2001-2002, compared to an estimated state average of $813.43.
Nelson admits the tax rate in Gila County is high, but points out that the overall tax burden places the county in the middle of the pack compared to other Arizona counties.
"I'll guarantee you our primary property tax rate is high," Nelson said. "There's no industry here. But the Department of Revenue comes out with an average tax burden for counties every year and our numbers are very much in the middle."
Graham is lowest at $266.35, while Maricopa County residents pay an average of $869.53.