More than $180 million came off the tax rolls recently as property owners in Douglas and Sarpy Counties won valuation protests.
The largest single winner was the Oak View Mall near 144th Street and West Center Road. Its valuation dropped from $90 million to $72 million — a cut that accounted for nearly 10 percent of all reductions in the two counties.
Businesses and apartment owners reaped about 80 percent of the dollars cut from the tax rolls.
However, the majority of the 4,100 protests in the two counties involved residential properties, and homeowners accounted for most of the winning cases.
The Board of Equalization provides property owners an annual opportunity to challenge the valuations set by county assessors. The number of protests declined about 20 percent this year.
In Douglas and Sarpy Counties, the cases are heard by real estate professionals who serve as referees and make recommendations. County Board members make the final decisions but typically approve the referee recommendations.
Overall, 3,659 property owners in Douglas County and 441 in Sarpy sought valuation changes.
About 44 percent were successful, a little lower rate than in past years.
“Overall, the process went quite smoothly,” said Catherine Hall, a Douglas County administrator who coordinated this year's Board of Equalization.
Lower valuations will mean lower property tax bills for those property owners, assuming that tax rates remain unchanged.
The valuation cuts will put some pressure on local government budgets, because the same tax rate will generate less revenue on a smaller tax base.
In rough terms, this year's valuation cuts will mean about $4 million less in property taxes collected in the two counties. But that will put a relatively small dent in total property taxes, which exceed $1 billion each year.
For a handful of people, a successful appeal will actually mean higher valuations and property taxes. That's because some of the protests came from people who wanted their valuations increased after the county assessor gave them a reduction. They were concerned that a lower taxable valuation would affect a property's resale value or their ability to refinance a mortgage.
Homeowners were more likely to be successful than owners of commercial property.
In Douglas County, for example, 52 percent of homeowners won changes. Business owners won only 33 percent of the time.
The $18 million reduction for Oak View Mall was part of a settlement reached this summer between the mall and county officials, ending a multiyear dispute that Oak View had taken to the State Tax Equalization and Review Commission, or TERC.
Barry Couch, chief deputy county assessor, said the county agreed that Oak View's valuation was too high compared with other malls.
On another long-standing dispute, Mutual of Omaha received a $3 million reduction this year on its headquarters complex near 33rd and Dodge Streets, which the county had valued at more than $90 million. The two sides remain far apart, however, because Mutual is pushing for a $51 million valuation.
The biggest residential reduction went to Thomas and Norma Hilt, who have fought for four years over the valuation of their 7,800-square-foot house overlooking the golf course in Indian Creek, a subdivision northwest of 190th Street and West Maple Road.
The Hilts' valuation dropped $213,720 to $1,543,480 — still far above the $1,140,000 they requested. The Hilts, who previously waged a high-profile battle over the valuation of the former Witherspoon mansion in Regency, say their new house is overbuilt for the neighborhood and would not sell for as much as the county claims.
Property owners can appeal their county board's decisions to TERC. It can take months or years to settle those appeals.