The Midland/Panhandle Homeowners Association held a property tax assessment informational meeting Thursday, drawing about 150 people to the Midland United Methodist Church on Warm Springs Road.
Those in attendance included outraged property owners, two Columbus councilors, attorneys and realtors, all grappling with the significant increases in tax assessments this year. Missing from the crowd were members of the Muscogee County Board of Equalization, who also were invited.
Bill Ward, president of the homeowners association, said Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk Ann Hardman told BOE members not to attend the meeting because it could create a conflict of interest.
“I wasn’t putting them in any kind of position where they were working with people to file their appeals,” Ward said. “I just wanted them to explain the process, and that was it. And I thought that would’ve been okay without putting them in any conflict situation.
“The clerk’s office has offered to, perhaps, schedule a separate meeting to explain the process of appeals,” he added. “... I told them if they held such a meeting, I would make an announcement, but I don’t know how many people would be interested in coming, if any.”
Charmaine Crabb, a local realtor with Re/Max Champions Realty, said the Columbus Board of Realtors will hold a special meeting Monday to train realtors on how to assist clients and other citizens with the appeals process. Crabb said she invited BOE members to the meeting and learned later that Hardman had instructed them not to attend.
In an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, Hardman said a section of Georgia code prohibits BOE members from participating in such activities.
“...Title 48 of the Revenue and Tax in the Georgia code tells us that we can’t show them how to fill out paperwork and then turn around and vote on what we told them to write,” she said. “... What our board does is appeals and we want to be in a position when the people have appeals that we can assist them. But to do it prematurely, before there’s an appeal, we felt it was kind of a conflict of interest.
“The Tax Commissioner’s job would be to talk to the people and give them their options,” she added. “Our job is to assist with the appeals.”
Hardman, who oversees the BOE, said she would be willing to hold a meeting at the library or some other location to explain to the public how the board works. But she and some of her supervisors would attend the meeting, not BOE members.
“I am open to whatever I can do to help,” she said. “I’m just trying to stay within the law.”