What is a County Tax Assessor?

Gerard S. Walen

A county tax assessor works for a county government and determines the value of real property for property tax assessments. The assessors are similar to private real estate appraisers, who set a value for a property when it is bought and sold. By contrast, a county tax assessor may value an entire neighborhood at one time whereas a private appraiser will concentrate on a single property at a time.

County tax assessors determine value of real estate as part of property tax assessment.
County tax assessors determine value of real estate as part of property tax assessment.

Periodically, a county will reevaluate property value assessments — usually once a year. The assessed value determines the property taxes owed by the property owner. Taxes help pay for public services, such as police, fire, road maintenance and construction, schools, and waste management services. Generally, taxes are proportionate to the value of the property. A county tax assessor does not set the tax rate — that usually is done by the county’s taxing authority.

The county tax assessor will set the value of a property through a combination of methods. An assessor gathers physical data, such as the square footage of a house, how many bedrooms and bathrooms it has, the acreage of the lot, and the size of the garage, if there is one. He or she will also take into account the location of the property, the condition of the surrounding neighborhood, and whether there have been any improvements made since the last assessment.

Another important consideration when a county tax assessor sets a property value is the condition of the real estate market in the county as a whole. If the market value of homes in the county is dropping, that could lead to a reduction in assessed value for an individual property. Conversely, if market value is on an upswing, taxpayers could see higher property tax assessments.

Using specialized computer software, county tax assessors can sometimes set values for property in an entire neighborhood at the same time. Much of their time is spent conducting research in the office, though they might need to assess an individual property, especially if a taxpayer challenges the value of an assessment. Sometimes an accurate assessment cannot be done via a mass appraisal method; therefore, the county tax assessor will need to do an individual valuation.

There are no federal requirements regarding education or training for county tax assessors. Each state sets the standards for its property tax assessors. These usually require some certification or specific education, combined with on-the-job training. A county tax assessor also should have good mathematical and analytical skills, as well as an attention for details.

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