Thousands of property owners in the Phoenix-area may have paid more or less than what they owe in Maricopa County property taxes.
The city of Phoenix is going over records of the city’s 500,000 parcels “and we would be surprised not to find errors,” said Mark Cernetic, deputy budget director.
Chandler has reported 248 errors to the county, and Peoria has flagged 1,000 parcels with suspected mistakes.
The problems started showing up after Maricopa County Assessor Keith Russell launched a comprehensive fact-checking campaign last month.
Russell sent letters to cities and school districts, fire districts and irrigation districts asking them to provide lists of “all active parcels” within their jurisdictions by Friday so he can correct errors before tax bills go out in a few weeks.
Russell acknowledges there are mistakes in some of the more than 1.5 million parcel records – he’s just not sure how many.
“As a percentage of the total, I hope it’s low,” Russell said.
The errors have a bigger financial impact on individual property owners than they do on cities and school districts because of the way property taxes are levied, Russell said.
The amount to which jurisdictions are entitled is divided among the total number of parcels based on valuation formulas. However, if some properties are included or excluded when they shouldn’t be, others wind up paying more or less than they should.
The accuracy push was a result of the current economic slowdown and a county computer system that relies heavily on human data entry and doesn’t automatically flag coding inconsistencies, Russell said.
Dennis Strachota, management services director for Chandler, said he started going back over tax statements months before the assessor’s request, to make sure the city was capturing all its property-tax revenues during tough economic times.
Strachota said the errors he found among the city’s 81,965 parcels included 138 plots mistakenly coded as being in unincorporated areas not subject to municipal taxes and 118 wrongly charged higher Phoenix or Tempe taxes.
If property owners do find mistakes, getting them fixed and obtaining refunds won’t be easy.
The assessor can correct mistakes but can’t return money, said Russ Heisinger, of the Assessor’s Office.
That involves filing a claim with the Arizona Department of Revenue.