City to ask for leeway in property assessments

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 3, 2012 

Who determines what's fair in a property's fair market value?

The Columbus Consolidated Government wants to ask state lawmakers to allow the city some leeway when dealing with properties that are sold at bargain prices in foreclosures or "distress sales," city leaders said last week.

Councilors will gather in a pre-meeting work session today at 4 p.m. to hash out that proposal along with about a dozen others the city will present to the local legislative delegation as its wish list for next year's session.

City Manager Isaiah Hugley and City Attorney Clifton Fay addressed a gathering of local city and state leaders last Tuesday while offering a preview of the city's legislative agenda, which councilors hope to polish up today.

Hugley said that when a house is sold in a foreclosure or a "distress sale," it usually is sold for less than the fair market value. If the bargain basement price becomes the new value, and is frozen there by the property tax assessment freeze, the city will lose tax revenue on the property until it changes hands again.

Fay gave the example of a $500,000 house selling at foreclosure for $250,000, which would drastically reduce the city's revenue on the property.

"We're concerned about that because we're going to lose every time in a distress sale or a bank case," Fay said.

Councilor Mike Baker took issue with the proposal, suggesting that the market should set the market value.

"If that piece of property has a for sale sign in front of it and it's been listed on all the multi-list exchanges, and the best offer is 250, then that may very well be the fair market value," Baker said. "We need to let the market set the value, not necessarily the assessment."

Among the other possible legislative requests are:

• Giving city leaders "redevelopment powers" that would allow them to use them to encourage investment and development is blighted areas.

• To change the authority wielded by the city's Personnel Review Board, restricting employee appeals solely to disciplinary actions.

• Restore funding to the Muscogee County School District that has been lost to austerity cuts.

• Shorten the time someone accused of a crime must wait between appearing in Recorder's Court to trial in state or superior court.

• Tweak last year's Secondary Metal Recyclers Act to make it even harder for metal thieves to peddle their metal.

• Require the state Revenue Department to gather and release "point of sales" data when collecting sales taxes.

• Prevent the local region that passed the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax this year from losing transportation funding it would otherwise have gotten.

• Provide funding for a local adolescent residential treatment facility.

• Establish a technology fee to be added to fines in Columbus Recorder's Court.

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