KEARNEY — A woman who paid $197,000 in May 2020 for two buildings to house part of her new rescue mission in Kearney now faces an $8,300 tax bill because the assessed valuation has ballooned to $455,000.
“I’m not asking to get anything for free, I just want what is fair,” said Heather Santiago, who told the Buffalo County Board of Commissioners Tuesday she saved her money to open a life skills and transitional living center that she calls Kearney’s Village.
Santiago said she attempted several times to correct the situation, but the Buffalo County Assessor’s office misled her and won’t fix the problem.
“They’ve been lying since March. Can we please make it fair?” Santiago told the county board, who listened to her complaints but took no action.
Kearney’s Village is housed in three buildings in east-central Kearney. They include a former motel on east 25th Street, the former church that housed the Jubilee Center until it moved last year to Old Town Kearney, and a house next to the old church that had been used for storage.
The old church and house had been treated as a single property for assessed valuations; however, according to Assessor Ethel Skinner, one of the structures was tax-exempt under the previous owner, so the assessed value was considerably lower than it is today.
Skinner told the county board that after Santiago purchased the old church and house they no longer are being treated as a single property with exempt status.
Santiago said the valuation was $110,000, but it leaped to $455,000 for the 2020 tax year, leaving her with a tax bill of $8,300. She said Skinner told her the valuation for 2021 would drop to $255,000.
“This is why I’m so upset, How can it go from $110,000 to $455,000 to $255,000?” Santiago said.
Skinner said if Santiago had filed the necessary paperwork, the property could have been assessed much lower, but she failed to do that.
“I would have suggested the church remain tax-exempt,” Skinner said.
An opportunity for any Buffalo County property owner to address issues with their assessed valuations is approaching.
Around Feb. 1 the assessor’s office will be sending preliminary valuation notices. When owners see what their valuation is, they may call the assessor’s office to describe the problem. An assessor’s staffer then will visually inspect the exterior of the property, and possibly fix the assessment. Skinner said her office has until March 19 to set valuations and file them with the state.
The preliminary valuation notices will arrive in plain white envelopes. Later, the assessor’s office will mail yellow postcards announcing the June 1-30 period when property owners may protest their assessed valuations.
Skinner told the county board that state-imposed deadlines and other rules tie her hands when situations like Santiago’s occur.
County Board Chairman Bill McMullen of Kearney closed the comment period and the board took no action on Santiago’s request to fix her assessment problem.
“The people in the assessor’s office do not have integrity,” Santiago said. “I’ll pay the $8,300 in taxes, but it’s very sad we’re trusting these people. Shame on everybody. Shame on you, Ethel.”