Atkins: Historic house owners pay their fair tax share

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Recent increases in city and county ad valorem taxes raised several questions among Adams&160;County taxpayers, from the value of a mill to how tax revenues are spent.

But one question still remains: how are the area’s numerous historic houses taxed?

Critics say the houses are worth millions, yet pay only a fraction in property taxes.

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Others, many of them historic homeowners and preservationists, say they are already saddled with tremendous restoration and maintenance costs, and any additional financial burden would discourage people from buying or keeping the houses.

Reynolds Atkins, Adams County Tax Assessor, said there is a misconception that historic houses are given special tax rates and exemptions, when, in reality, all houses are assessed and taxed by the same standard.

&uot;It doesn’t matter if it’s a shack or an antebellum home that’s 200 years old,&uot; Atkins said.

Rather than tax historic houses — or any other houses — based on what they sell for on the real estate market, the state assessment manual requires Atkins to put a &uot;true&uot; value on the property.

True value is composed of many factors, the most significant of which is replacement cost — how much it would cost to replace the house today.

But, many historic houses contain or are composed of fixtures and materials that are irreplaceable.

&uot;That would be like a locket your grandmother gave you — trying to put a price on that,&uot; he said.

Also, most of the historic houses that are still standing were built from high-quality materials with expert craftsmanship.

To accommodate these &uot;special&uot; houses, the &uot;S&uot; class was created.

All structures are categorized by age and class, the latter of which ranges from &uot;A-plus&uot; to &uot;F-minus,&uot; Atkins said.

Class is determined by the assessor based on the quality of the materials and construction.

&uot;There are very few ‘A’ houses around here,&uot; Atkins said.

As a house ages, the amount owed in taxes also decreases, but a house’s classification never changes,&160;Atkins said.

According to the state’s residential depreciation schedules, a 25-year old house in the &uot;C&uot; class is assessed at a depreciation rate of 74 percent of its original quality.

Atkins compared property taxes on historic houses to the cost of vehicle tags for classic automobiles.

A 1957 Chevrolet, though someone might pay several thousands of dollars for it, is valued at a much smaller amount due to its age, Atkins said.

&uot;Even though the market value might be 30 times what they say it’s worth,&uot; Atkins said. &uot;It’s a collector’s item.&uot;

Once the assessed value of historic structure is determined, they are taxed in one of two ways.

Houses occupied by the owner qualify for a &uot;homestead exemption,&uot; which sets taxation at 10 percent of the assessed value.

Historic houses that have been converted into bed and breakfasts are considered to be businesses and are taxed at the same 15 percent rate as any other business, Atkins said.

&uot;They pay the same taxes as everybody else,&uot; Atkins said.

But, unlike other businesses, which are taxed on property plus inventory and equipment, bed and breakfasts are taxed based on the number of fixtures — bathrooms — and rooms.

The more rentable rooms and bathrooms a bed and breakfast has, the more taxes it pays, Atkins said.

While assessment and taxing procedures vary from state to state, Atkins said Mississippians pay a fair amount.

&uot;If you’ll do a comparison with other states, you’ll find that Mississippi is very lenient,&uot; he said.

Sid Smith, director of the Mississippi Property Assessment Bureau, said all property taxes are based on the &uot;mass value&uot; — a kind of average for all properties in the state.

&uot;It may not be a perfect system, but it is based on mass appraisal,&uot; Smith said.

&uot;You would never be able to pay the county officials to go out and appraise these properties individually,&uot; he said.