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Review of assessors board requested
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A Guyton resident is asking for a review of Effingham County’s board of assessors.

Raymon Starling has asked the county commissioners to request the state Department of Revenue’s Local Government Services Division conduct a performance review of the board of assessors. Specifically, Starling is asking for a review of policy, procedures, cost schedules and land value schedules.

“It’s nothing unusual,” Starling said of the review. “It’s done all over the state all the time.”

Starling also called into question the methods the assessors’ office is using.

“The tax situation the last 10 years has been absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “The procedure they use does not follow state recommendations. They operate under a different procedure than anyone else.”

The tax digest on single-family homes has gone from $460 million in 1998 to more than $1 billion in 2008, Starling said, an increase of 363 percent.

The assessors’ office conducted a schedule update of large tracts, those parcels at least 35 acres and larger in size. Starling said large tracts should be 25 acres and more.

The small and large acre land schedule had not been updated since 2003, Chief Appraiser Janis Bevill said.

“Even with the economic downturn, it is likely the total assessed value will increase,” she said.

Bevill said the goal of the revaluation is to value properties in a uniform way so that similar properties in similar areas will have comparable values. The appraisers look at ratios and comparable sales. But with the larger tracts of land, there aren’t as many sales to judge.

The procedure manual allows the assessors office to look at four years of sales, Bevill said, and they ended up with about 19 sales to use.
Improvements on land were revalued in 2007 and a planned update for 2008 was pushed back to 2009 because of a health issue with a consultant.

Sales data on land is gathered from deeds filed with the clerk of court’s office, and timber and personal property on that land is taken out of the sales equation, according to Bevill. They also classify the land based on soil types, how heavily wooded it is, accessibility, shape and topography.
Norman and Associates conducted the work on the large and small acre schedules while cost schedules on improvements were conducted in-house.

“We felt with the county investment in education for our staff,” Bevill said “we could do this in house.”

Bevill also said there were 24 subdivisions in the county where values were lowered.

“When we revalued our small acreage, residential areas, a lot of values went down,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of appeals from developers. We have a 60 percent absorption rates on undeveloped lots in the county.”

County appraisers also took foreclosures into consideration and Bevill said they’ve been doing that before it became a state law this year.
The county’s assessment ratio was at 39.3 percent, and the state allows for a range of between 36 percent and 44 percent, with 40 percent as the target, Bevill added.

But Starling wondered about values in his neighborhood. He developed the subdivision he lives in, with lot sizes at least 2 acres. He said he lives on a private dirt road, and his home has a 100-foot power line easement behind it. His lot was valued at $60,000. A neighbor with a pool and without the power line easement had a similar value.

“There’s no consistency,” he said. “It’s a joke.”

Property owners have until Monday to appeal their property assessment.

“We would rather you appeal it than not,” Bevill said.

A property owner can provide information about their land that will remain on their property card file for future reference

“Everybody that appeals will get a card or a call from my staff,” Bevill said. “I can’t see the beaver dams or the woodpeckers and those are things we need people to tell us. If you have a lot of Highway 21 frontage but there’s a part you can’t get to without going to someone else’s property, we’re not going to put an A on that for its accessibility. We want to make sure that we did that correctly.

“You’ve got to give us something, because we can’t do it without any documentation. Our recommendation is to come into our office and talk to us.”