MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — Property owners throughout Mecosta and Osceola counties should be looking for more than a Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes envelope in their mailboxes in the weeks ahead.

Each year at the end of February, local assessors will send out tax assessment change notices to property owners, which indicate what the determined value of their property is worth.

However, many residents disregard the assessment because there is “THIS IS NOT A TAX BILL” printed across the top.

“A lot of people just file them away, and don’t realize what it says until they get their tax bill,” said Kimber Westmaas, assessor for Osceola Township. “They may not realize there’s an increase until it’s actually too late to protest.”

Westmaas, who is completing her third year on the job, said two of the items listed on the notice are the assessed value, which is 50 percent of the true cash value of the house, and the taxable value.

“Every year, as long as the taxable value is below the assessed value, the taxes will increase only by the rate of inflation,” she said. “However, if they added or removed something from the property, or if their parcel cards were incorrect, it will cause an increase or decrease in their tax bill.

“A lot of times, an assessor will put in a reason for the change and when the March Board of Review dates are.”

Shila Kiander, Mecosta County’s equalization director, explained the time to appeal any assessment change is at the March Board of Reviews, which are scheduled in each local jurisdiction.

“It’s important for people to read the change notices,” she said. “Property owners will have 14 days to appeal any changes.”

Kiander said the notices include the owner’s property classification, valuation, exemptions, millage rates and any additional information about the property, as well as the indication of the township’s board of review.

Along with reading their notice, Westmaas said if property owners have any questions or need assistance understanding their notice, they should call their assessor to get a better idea of what information is used for calculating their property’s value.

“If there is anything incorrect or if they have any additional information, the time to address it is as the March Board of Review,” she said. “Property owners typically can’t make any additional changes after that, unless it is authorized by the state.”

Westmaas said assessing a piece of property isn’t as simple driving up to a parcel of property and coming up with some random amount.

“Everything is mathematically calculated by state law,” she said. “An assessor will have the square footage of a house, a grade based on the quality of construction, the neighborhood where the house is and compare the value to sales in that area. All the properties are assessed similarly.

“It’s very data-driven. You have the land value, the value of each building or improvement on the property and note everything on that record card very specifically.”

Kiander explained appealing an assessment change may be a little intimidating.

“If you believe the assessment is too high or two low, one of the first steps is to get a copy of the assessing record card,” she said. “It will have all the information on it, and it’s important to make sure all the information the assessor has is accurate.”

Along with gathering materials and paperwork which will help support their side during the board of review, Kiander said a property owner can always sit in on someone else’s appeal to see how the process works, as it is an open meeteing.

“It may help them feel better about what they are going to do and need to have ready when it’s their turn,” she said. “The board of review members live in their community, maybe even be their neighbors who serve who listen to the appeal of taxpayers and then make a determination.”