Tax Parcel Definition

A tax parcel is a division of land developed for the sole purpose of creating a complete, accurate, and equitable unit of taxation in support of taxpayers, contributing a fair share of support for the community services received.

A tax parcel, also referred to as real property or real estate, is created for assessment and taxation purposes. The parcel is usually defined by a legal description and, by following that description, the user should be able to locate the parcel on a tax parcel map. The complete tax parcel will vary between counties on the digit count.

The official land boundary for a real estate tax parcel – its size, shape, and location – is established by that tax parcel's legal description. A land owner may split, combine, or realign existing tax parcels. This action typically defines a new tax parcel or parcels having new land boundaries, and hence, new legal descriptions. The redefinition of land boundaries is particularly important since real estate taxes represent a lien upon a parcel, as defined by its legal description, upon which they are levied. 

Tax Parcel Numbers

Legal descriptions, although official and formal, are not necessarily concise and succinct; and oftentimes they are difficult for a layperson to understand. For this reason, a simpler parcel numbering system is also employed to communicate tax parcel boundaries. Parcel numbers provide a system of cataloging land parcels using a sequence of numbers and/or letters instead of complete legal descriptions. In essence, each tax parcel number maps to a tax parcel legal description.

When the boundaries of existing parcels are changed and either consolidated or separated to create one or more parcels with new and different boundaries, a county may either:

  • Discard or retire the existing parcel numbers and assign the new parcel boundaries an entirely new set of parcel numbers.
  • Reuse one or more of the existing parcel numbers and assign the new parcel boundaries with new OR existing parcel numbers.

The first option is known as a retiring number system and the second as a non-retiring number system

Retiring vs. Non-retiring number systems

Tax parcels are created when the geometry of one or more parcels are changed due to a result of surveys, splits, combinations, realignments, conversion cleanup or mapping/research. When the geometry of existing parcels (parent) changes the parcel becomes inactive and the newly created parcels (child) become the active parcels. Conversion cleanup and mapping/research can create new parcels that were not carved out of an existing parent parcel.

In a retiring number system parent parcels that become inactive have their parcel numbers retired, never to be used again. Similarly, newly created child parcels that become active receive entirely new parcel numbers that have never been used in the past. 

Inactive vs. Active parcels

In order to best understand the concept of active and inactive parcels, one must first understand the concepts discussed in the three previous sections: tax parcel definition, parcel numbering, and retiring vs. non-retiring parcel numbering systems. 

An inactive tax parcel will no longer be on the assessment roll or assessed for taxes starting the year after it was inactivated. An active tax parcel on January 1st of a given year will be on the assessment roll for that year and will be assessed for taxes that year. Consider the following example:

This page represents the Tax Parcel Detail for the parcel T011414160900100 in the Town of Alto, Fond du Lac County. Note that the Status of this parcel is indicated to be Inactive. In fact, this parcel was involved in a split transaction created by a Certified Survey Map that was recorded on 07/16/2012. This split created two new parcels carved out from the parent parcel: T011414160900300 and T011414160900400. Notice that Fond du Lac County utilizes a retiring number system; the parent parcel number (i.e. T011414160900100) has been decommissioned forever and the two child parcels receive entirely new parcel numbers. In a retiring number system every parcel in the county, regardless of whether it is active or inactive, will be unique.

In this scenario, the inactive, parent parcel, T011414160900100, would have been active on January 1, 2012. Because of this it would be on the 2012 assessment roll and will still receive a tax bill in 2012, even though its current status is inactive. However, it will not be on the assessment roll for 2013, since 2013 is the year after it was inactivated. Because it will not be on the 2013 assessment roll, it will not receive a tax bill in 2013. 

For the purposes of simplicity, assume that neither of the two (and now active) child parcels, T011414160900300 and T011414160900400, have their boundaries changed again throughout the remainder of 2012. These active parcels will be on the 2013 assessment roll and will both receive a tax bill in 2013.

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