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Commissioners OK assessors review
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Effingham County commissioners approved asking the state Department of Revenue for a performance review of the board of assessors and also approved adding two more members to the three-man board.

The Revenue Department will send a team of assessors from nearby counties to look into the practices and procedures of the Effingham assessors board.

“The review board will issue a written report of its findings,” said County Administrator David Crawley, “to include its judgment and findings.”

The cost of the review board will be covered out of the county’s contingency fund, Crawley added.

The citizens group We the Taxpayers had asked for the performance review at the commissioners’ Sept. 1 meeting. They also asked to expand the membership of the current assessors board from three to five, a move county commissioners already had been pondering. Ruth Lee from We the Taxpayers said the organization appreciated the commissioners addressing those two issues promptly.

“We still have a great concern about where our property values are,” she said.

The assessors department has had more than 3,300 appeals on property value notices, and Chief Appraiser Janis Bevill said they have about 1,670 appeals left to address. She estimated it will take about three to four weeks to finish the appeals.

The assessors office has received an extension from the Revenue Department to submit the tax digest. The state has granted the county assessors office until Oct. 1 to complete the digest and submit it to Atlanta for review. Bevill said the assessors office may ask for another extension.

Bevill also backed having two more members on the assessors board. Currently, one member has been hospitalized and the board is down to two members for a meeting.

“We’re in a bind,” she said.

An August 1997 commissioners resolution set membership of the board of assessors at three. Currently, two of the assessors board members are from District 1 and the other is from District 3.

Commissioners won’t make membership of the revamped board parallel the county commission districts but may try to push that each district has a representative member on the assessors board. Assistant county attorney Eric Gotwalt said courts usually don’t allow such requirements to stand.

“You’re adding  requirements for eligibility that differs from state requirements,” he said. “I think it’s a sound idea, but I wouldn’t incorporate it.”

Terms of the revamped board will be staggered so that a majority of the board will not have its terms expire at once. Each new member is required to receive 40 hours of training, and the new members are expected to be in place by March 14, 2010.

If the digest passes one of two thresholds, it won’t be sent back to Effingham to have more appeals resolved.

The value in dispute is determined by the total value under contention compared to the total gross digest value, minus the public utility value. The number in dispute is the percentage of the total number of parcels in appeal compared to the total taxable real parcels — more than 27,000 — in the county.

The limits are 3 percent of appeals in a normal year and 5 percent in a revaluation year. The percentage is computed by comparing the total amount of value in dispute to the total gross digest values less the public utility value.

Currently, the digest, originally pegged at around $1.807 billion, is approximately $1.800 billion after the initial appeals.

Property owners have 45 days to appeal their value and the assessors will send out a second notice informing them if there has been a change or there has been no change. Property owners have 21 days to appeal that second notice.

Bevill also asked that anyone who has a question about their property values and how they are determined should visit or call her office.

“We knew when we mailed these out there would be an outcry,” she said. “But we knew we’d get better information from having people come in and talk to us. We do encourage people to talk to us.”