Effingham County commissioners are scheduled to vote next month on a millage rate after the board of assessors approved a widely-debated property tax digest.
New property assessment notices were mailed out last week, and property owners have 21 days to appeal their new values, Chief Appraiser Janis Bevill said.
But the digest and the values are still a bone of contention for some taxpayers — and a local watchdog group told county commissioners that a class action suit against the digest could be in the offing.
“The taxpayers of this county have been saddled with unrealistic and very excessive taxes on their property,” said Ruth Lee of the We, the Taxpayers group.
Lee said the taxes on 272.62 acres of land went from $7,770 a year to over $22,400.
“I see that as a problem,” she said.
Lee said her group believes the approved digest is in direct violation of House Bill 233, passed during the 2009 General Assembly session.
“This bill requires a moratorium on new tax assessments unless the county has conducted a countywide revaluation of all properties in 2008. This countywide revaluation has not taken place,” she said. “It was acknowledged there has not been a revaluation of all properties. There have been ratio studies, but that is not a revaluation.”
According to HB 233, a moratorium until January 2011 is in effect on all increases in the assessed values of all properties, and the limitations will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2010, for counties that had a comprehensive countywide revaluation for all properties in that county in 2008 or any county that was under contract before Feb. 28 of this year to have a comprehensive countywide revaluation.
“The board’s decision will force you to act on an invalid digest that places the county and school board in an impossible situation and jeopardizes the county’s ability to receive needed tax revenues,” Lee said. “Our attorney is ready to go forward with a class action suit to enjoin the use of the digest and to get justice for the taxpayers of Effingham County.”
Lee said if it wasn’t so serious it would be funny that taxpayers had to pay for litigation against the county’s taxes.
“Folks, we do not want to do that,” she said. “But where are we at? Do I want to pay $22,000 in taxes when last year it was $7,800? I can bring you 50 cases up here that show you the same kind of problem. The tax law requires it to be fair, equitable and at fair market value. And it doesn’t meet that test.
“We want to work with you. But if left with no other choice, we’re going to do what we’re going to have to do.”
Commissioners approved adding two members to the board of assessors, giving the board five members. Neal Kessler and John Kieffer received the most votes from the six commissioners.
“People want their voice heard on the tax assessors board,” commission Chairman Dusty Zeigler said.
Lee urged the commissioners to make sure that the board members are taxpayers and own real property in the county.
Effingham County property owners will have 60 days to pay their 2009 property taxes. Bills are expected to go out in late November.