Effingham County commissioners have agreed to ask the state for a performance review of the board of assessors and to expand the membership of the board.
Commissioners, who had been considering both measures, approved both moves unanimously Tuesday morning. Representatives from the citizens watchdog group We The Taxpayers had requested that commissioners ask for the performance review, expand the board to five members and nullify the 2009 property assessments.
“The intent of the review is to know what we need to do in order to be better,” commission Chairman Dusty Zeigler said. “I hope it proves we have good folks and they are doing the right things and they are doing a good job for us.”
A performance review would be conducted by a representative from the state Department of Revenue office and two chief appraisers of nearby counties.
Many residents have expressed their ire at recent assessments that valued property much higher, and they have questioned the methods and practices used to determine those new values.
“Can you answer with 100 percent certainty that the procedures are being followed?” asked Guyton resident Raymon Starling. “If you cannot say yes, then you need to vote today to have a review. You owe it to the taxpayers that it’s being done right. We want to be treated like other counties. Effingham County needs (a performance review) now.”
Assistant county attorney Eric Gotwalt said commissioners could pass a non-binding resolution asking the assessors not to go forward with the 2009 assessments. Gotwalt added he could not say with absolute certainty that the assessors board was following state guidelines but it’s not likely any other county could either.
Chief Appraiser Janis Bevill said more than 20,000 assessment notices were mailed out this year — there are more than 27,000 parcels of land in the county — and there had been 3,357 appeals filed.
“Now as property owners in our county are faced with higher tax bills, many are finding it difficult to pay these taxes due to the slumping economy, lost jobs and pensions that have not kept up with the increases in the cost of living,” Mark Czachowski said.
“And for those property owners who can no longer afford ownership and seek to sell their property, there is a lack of potential buyers in part because of the excessively high property taxes in our county.”
Czachowski said a performance review of the assessors board would restore confidence among Effingham residents.
Currently, two members are from District 1 and the third is from District 3. We The Taxpayers is asking the commissioners to give each of the five districts a member on the assessors board.
But the commissioners offered that may be problematic — getting people to serve on various boards hasn’t been easy.
“Our group is committed to helping you find people to serve on that board,” Ruth Lee said. “We have no agenda other than to support good government in Effingham County. It’s our belief that any government is as good or bad as the citizens allow.”
The group also asked the commissioners to re-set the assessments back to their 2008 level under House Bill 233. But commissioners weren’t sure that was something they could do.
Zeigler said commissioners had been talking about the performance review and expanding the board of assessors.
“The ideas they brought forth, we have been discussing for several weeks now,” he said.