Tuesday, August 28, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Taxpayers get a break

The Pulaski County Equalization Board is a little-known outfit in downtown Little Rock where struggling property owners can appeal their ever-rising assessment and hope to catch a break. All they have to do is convince a usually sympathetic board to lower their taxes, and chances are good taxpayers will be glad they made the effort.

While the county assessors have a special incentive to raise taxes not just for local schools and services but to make sure their staff is well-paid, the equalization board consists mostly of volunteer professionals who don’t mind giving hard-pressed taxpayers a break.

We appreciate the fairness of two longtime Jacksonville board members, Bud Perry and Jim Peacock, who have listened to our special pleadings with sympathy and respect. There’s never a condescending tone when you go before the board, unlike at the assessor’s office downtown, where the reception can be intimidating.

But you have to find the equalization board first. Its existence was not well-publicized until reports in the media talked of sticker shock after taxpayers received their bills indicating their real estate had increased in value. That was news to a lot of people since many of them can’t sell their property for what they paid for it.

Real estate values in Pulaski County supposedly increased from $26.8 billion in 2009 to $29.8 billion early this year, or about 11 percent. That’s hard to believe in this economy, but the assessor is seldom wrong, except when he is.

That’s where the Pulaski County Equalization Board comes in. We know people who have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years thanks to fair and balanced treatment you will likely receive if you take the time to make the trip to Little Rock.

Sure, traffic is awful and parking isn’t easy. The office is in a dark, hard-to-find place, but once you get there, you’re bound to receive a sympathetic hearing. Even if it takes a couple of hours of travel and waiting to go before the board, saving several thousand dollars in these hard times can make the difference between staying solvent or going under water.

Thanks to the Pulaski County Equalization Board, ordinary people get a little relief from having to keep government afloat with an ever-increasing share of their tax dollars. Who said never give a sucker an even break? Lucky for us, the equalization board doesn’t believe it.