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Fighting higher assessments
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It was sort of like “give us a few minutes and we will approve this.”
That is not completely accurate but it’s too close for comfort. And, I am talking about the action of the members of the Tax Assessors Board in their meeting on Oct. 13. The members were given a stack of papers (more than 2 inches thick) to review, it was the listing of recommended changes for 2009 appeals and the assessment notice list of the 21 day notice. There were over 3,300 appeals filed on reassessments sent out.
That said, that means they had the lists that totaled over 3,300 appeals and they were going to sit there and review them by flipping through the pages, which they were in the process of doing.

Until those of us in audience raised serious questions about the ability of anyone to be able to appropriately review that much data in a short period of time, they then backed down and decided that they would take this information with them and study it and come back in a special called meeting (Oct. 19 at 7 p.m.) to address this issue.

To those of us who have been involved in these meetings since Sept. 1 as part of the organization, “We, the Tax Payers”, it appears that this was the procedure that was probably used by this board when they reviewed and approved the list of all reassessments, almost 20,000 appeal notices went out, back on June 29.

They even expressed the fact that they had not been aware of increases that ranged up into 300 percent, 400 percent, 500 percent; they had not seen such numbers in their review. Folks, that just means that they did not review carefully and did not see the huge increases in values that amounted to the 330 percent-500 percent increases.

The second issue that has become apparent is that of what might be called half price sale on tax assessments.  It has been learned that certain taxpayers were called and asked to come in, during the last 10 days, and discuss their assessments. These citizens were given the benefit of an enlightened day at the tax assessors office. They have now recognized that property is not selling at the 2006-07 prices.

So what did they do? These few fortunate citizens have had their assessment reduced as much as 50 percent.  But what about those who did not get one of those calls? And what about those of us who went in early and did not get the benefit of such enlightened reductions. The action begs the question: “if they know the values are low now, how is it that they didn’t know that back on June 29 when these values were approved?
The tax law requires that all values (assessments) to be fair, equitable and at fair market value.      

Before these very significant reductions on values, they failed to meet these standards by exceptional (low) values applied to “some” properties. So they really weren’t fair and equitable but more than anything did not meet the test of “true market value.”

And now that they have reduced only a portion of these high values on a selective basis…they fail to meet the standard of fair and equitable.

Where does this leave us? It leaves us with what we contend is a very flawed and probably illegal method of procedure in setting our values and assessments. Upon being questioned about the need for a thorough reading and review of documents presented on Tuesday night their answer was: “we have to depend on our people for these documents, we know they do good work and we trust them.” OK, well and good, but there are mistakes made, unintentional perhaps, but nevertheless mistakes. We were able to provide specific examples of mistakes we had knowledge of.

The law says that the board must assure the accuracy of values, etc.

On top of all of this, this board refuses to recognize a bill passed just this year in the general assembly for the purpose of giving citizens a break on taxes. The bill (HB 233) sets a moratorium on raising assessments until 2011. By law, no other official, except a judge, can throw out the 2009 assessments. They argue that they are exempt by one of the provision that says “to have performed a comprehensive countywide revaluation of all properties in the county.”

They are arguing on the basis of what does “all” and what does “comprehensive” mean. Looks simple to me, I can refer them to a good dictionary.

By the statement of the chief appraiser in the 9-1-09 there was only certain class of real property that were reviewed and revalued.

Abiding by this law would require going back to the 2008 assessments (taking with them any values lowered in 2009) and have taxes levied essentially on the same values as last year.

This is lengthy; maybe it helps folks understand what a serious situation we have in Effingham in regard to our property taxes. “We, the Tax Payers” is a group of citizens that have joined together in this battle on behalf of all of the tax payers in the county. We are doing everything we know to do. We have retained an attorney and are scraping up contributions to help with such costs.

Folks, we can not stand idly by and allow Effingham taxpayers to be so abused with unrealistic high values that results in higher taxes being placed against the property owners. If you want more information, please call me: Ruth Lee, 754-6730