Falling property values could hurt Baldwin County schools, governments


Baldwin County schools and local governments, already trying to cope with lost sales tax revenue caused by the oil spill, could get hit again next year by falling property values along the coast.

Walt Lindsey, the county’s chief appraiser, said that his employees are just starting the six-month process of assessing the values that will determine 2011’s ad valorem tax charges.

Lindsey’s staff compares actual sales prices from this year to last year and uses that data to determine any change in property values.

He said that his appraisers would give more weight to sales made in recent months so that the values are as accurate as they can be.

“We won’t be measuring but a handful sales that occurred before spill,” he said. “I would be surprised if the oil spill doesn’t have some effect.”

He said he has heard second-hand stories about people selling beach condominiums for less than they were worth because they were desperate to get rid of them.

Baldwin County’s beach communities saw real estate values skyrocket for most of the past decade, as developers poured money into high-end condominium projects. But values have fallen in the past two years after the economy crashed.

Mobile County Revenue Commissioner Marilyn Wood said she does not expect the oil spill to have an effect on property values on her side of Mobile Bay.

Property taxes accounted for $39 million of the $111 million taken in by the Baldwin County Commission in 2009, and for $53 million of the $259 million collected by Baldwin County public schools.

The school system has already filed a claim with BP PLC, which owned the majority stake in the ruptured oil well, for $4.3 million in lost sales tax revenue, said Terry Wilhite, spokesman for the system.

“We will certainly be impacted by falling property taxes,” Wilhite said. “To what degree is undetermined at this point, but it will be substantial.”

The Gulf Coast Claims Facility could also have an impact. It is the independent operation that is processing tens of thousands of individual and business claims against BP for damages.

Top claims administrator Ken Feinberg has said that people who have sold property for less than its April 20 value could be compensated to make up for the loss.

Lindsey said that his appraisers would not factor claims payments into property values.

Feinberg said Friday that he had not received many property sale claims.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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