PULASKI COUNTY, Ark. – When was the last time you checked your property card?
It’s what the county uses to determine your property taxes, and one woman says the county added houses on her father’s estate that do not even exist.
It sounded like a bizarre accusation, so FOX16’s Marci Manley took a look at how hidden houses, locked gates and the law could leave you liable for big buck if you don’t pay attention at assessment time.
“They just, they’re here,” Diana Maulding said.
Diana Maulding, who claims houses that don’t exist were added to the estate takes us on a search.
“So y’all haven’t seen the driveways or the houses?” Maulding said.
Through her father’s Pulaski County estate for structures she says aren’t there.
“It shows three houses on the property,” Maulding said. “There are not three houses on it. “
Maulding claims two of three houses reported by the county assessor to be taxed by on the property card for 2017 have never existed here.
“One of the houses on the property was never placed on the property card. Two houses that were never on the property were put on the 2017 property card,” Maulding said.
She appealed the assessment to the board of equalization where county officials told her a locked gate to keep out trespassers on the rural property created the card results.
“There’s something wrong when – in a mass reappraisal you end up with $80,625 worth of houses attributed to a parcel that have never been on the parcel,” Maulding said.
The office, alleging assessors left a notice like they always do, are asking owners to call, which Maulding and her siblings say they never saw or received.
“Why didn’t you leave a note, write a letter. Hey, the gate was locked we would like to tak a look,” Maulding said.
“I am fairly certain that this — is this building. What that building is – I don’t know until I get out there,” Joe Thompson, Pulaski County’s Chief Deputy Assessor said.
Joe Thompson, Pulaski County’s Chief Deputy Assessor, saying the property card here is the county’s best estimate of what’s there.
The county uses aerial photos and digital measurement tools to gather information. But those methods can only reveal so much without stepping foot on the property.
“It looks like a house to me,” Thompson said. “There are cars parking in front of it. Maybe it’s storage – I don’t know.”
Thompson says state law gives assessors authority to enter property, but doesn’t give them the option to forego assigning a value.
Even if they are not able to gain access.
Twenty years ago he says the industry took more extreme measures.
“Somebody doesn’t let you on the property? Someone would slap $250,000 on a little house so that they would come to the board and the board would say – well let them go out there, ” Thompson said.
The office mailed out notices of value changes in late June, to give owners time for informal corrections the state deadline for formal appeals. Thompson said Maulding wouldn’t let officials enter when she first called a voice complaint in late July.
“We said we would come out and look at it,” Thompson said.
Then again following a board of equalization appeal.
“The BOE initially said we’re going to put this on hold, because we want you to go out there,” Thompson said.
Maulding admits she canceled on the office, but counters county officials were aggressive and she doesn’t think the law includes options for serial re-appraisals.
As Maulding winds her way through the property’s appeals process there’s at least one thing she and the assessor’s office agree on.
“Everyone should be checking their property card — everyone,” Maulding said.
Maulding contends that assessor could have entered the property any time, as a large portion of the parcel is not fenced.
At a hearing on Thursday, the Pulaski County Judge dismissed Maulding’s case saying she had not given assessors required access.
Maulding still has a chance to appeal to the circuit court.
There’s also not a set formula for placing a value on these properties that is equally recreated.
According to Thompson, it all depends on location, depreciation, and other factors.