Some Muscogee County property tax assessments have jumped as high as 1,000 percent this year due to a reassessment of all taxable parcels in the county.
The drastic increase has outraged many taxpayers, some of whom showed up at Columbus Council on Tuesday morning. For the most part, they sat quietly in the audience while city representatives grilled tax assessment officials during a two and a half hour discussion. But at times, the crowd broke into applause.
“I just know from my law firm alone, on the low end people have come to us asking about bills at a 100 percent increase,” said Councilor Walker Garrett. “On the high end, we’ve got people that have over a 1,000 percent increase. Why are we not flagging these before people get alarmed and they see their properties go up 10 times within a year? I mean that’s got to be obvious that there’s some sort of error in the system.”
Jeanette Brown, a Upatoi resident, said her family has owned her property since 1968. She said her property tax assessment jumped from about $400 to $1,807 this year.
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“I don’t get that much a month,” she said. “They saying about they took pictures of the house years ago and then they took pictures now and overlapped it. That don’t mean nothing.”
She said the house was valued at $35,000 prior to the recent assessment, and no improvements were made. Now it’s valued at $107,000.
“Ain’t nobody gonna give me $10,000 for that house,” she said. “And I don’t believe anybody been out assessing nothing. They said they have a spreadsheet where they looked at the property. Everybody out there that has acreage is complaining. It went up three or four times the amount.”
John Williams, deputy chief appraiser with the Muscogee County Board of Assessors, said about 70,000 parcels have been reassessed, and tax bills were mailed to property owners on June 30. He said the countywide reassessment was part of a Web-based software upgrade.
Tax payments are due Dec. 1. Property owners still going through the appeal process at that time will be required to pay 85 percent. The money will be refunded if the appeal is granted.
“For the first time in many years, all the parcels were looked at and given a brand new assessment value,” Williams said in an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer. “Some of those values went up and some of those values went down. ... Averaged out it’s about 50-50. But we’re getting complaints from property owners who don’t want their assessments changed.”
Williams said the Tax Assessor’s Office had already received 159 appeals over a two- week period, and he stressed the importance of the appeals process, which gives citizens up to Aug. 14 to appeal their assessments.
He said he personally owns property that he believes is too high, and another too low, for which he will file an appeal.
“We are protected by Georgia code to be able to appeal our assessments,” he said. “We want people to appeal. ... These properties won’t be complete and accurate until the appeal process is finished, and we have 180 days to finish the appeal process.”
In response to Walker’s question about how properties were assessed, Williams said appraisers looked at land sales to determine the assessed value for properties in surrounding areas. To apply the process equally, they went into the assessor’s 35-year-old Oasis system, removed all value influences and then reappraised the land, Williams said. Then they went back and put positive and negative influences back on the properties.
“... Just because a property value went up doesn’t mean there was a mistake, or an omission or some factor that wasn’t applied,” Williams said.
Councilor Glenn Davis said councilors are elected to represent their constituents, and he’s very concerned.
“My constituency is, quite frankly, mad as hell,” he said to the applause of the audience. “I don’t use that word much, and I don’t think I’ve used it before in council chambers.”
He asked when the tax assessor’s office became aware of the significant changes in assessment.
Robert Lomax, attorney for the Board of Tax Assessors, said the software upgrades and property reevaluations began with Tyler Technologies in the fall of 2014. Officials were aware of the issue when notices were mailed June 30.
“We knew when we sent out notices that there was going to be a backlash, mainly because it is human nature that if my value goes up, it must be wrong,” he said. “We understand that, but if 50 percent went up, 50 percent may have gone down. And I’m sure the folks whose values have gone down are not gonna complain like the ones who went up.”
Lomax recommended that citizens go to the tax assessor’s website, click on the property page, and compare the characteristics of properties in their area. Officials said some property owners may also consider hiring an independent appraiser or attorney.
“Do the underlying research to determine if it’s valued correctly or incorrectly,” Lomax said. “But don’t make the assumption that simply because it’s up, it must be wrong.”
Davis said councilors should have been notified of the increases before notices went out so they could know what to tell their constituents.
“They’re finding out through their tax notices, that’s why I’m a little concerned,” Davis said. “ .. Now is that fair? No. What that’s done is created a hornet’s nest. That’s why they’re mad as hell, because they’re getting these and the rumor mill is starting.”
Williams said citizens can file an appeal at the Tax Assessor’s Office located at the Citizens Service Center or at http://www.columbusga.org/taxassessors/. Once appeals are received, appraisers will take a second look at the property to determine if the valuation should be changed. If the assessment is not changed, the property owner can appeal to the Board of Equalization. Appealing directly to Superior Court and other options are available at an additional cost.