Muscogee County tax assessors’ plans to extend a contract with Tyler Technologies to help with a backlog resulting from unprecedented tax appeals were stalled Tuesday when four Columbus councilors voted against the proposal.
Council voted 5 to 4 in favor of the addendum, but the vote was inconclusive because one more vote was needed. Those voting in favor were Councilors Skip Henderson, Evelyn “Mimi” Woodson, Jerry “Pops” Barnes, Mike Baker and Mayor Pro “Tem” Evelyn Turner-Pugh. Those opposed were Councilors Glenn Davis, Judy Thomas, Gary Allen and Garrett Walker. Councilor Bruce Huff was absent when the vote was taken.
Tyler Technologies, a Texas-based vendor, implemented the 2017 countywide property revaluation/software conversion project that resulted in significant hikes in assessments, some as much as 1,000 percent. It is the same company being considered by some city officials for a new comprehensive court management system.
Prior to the vote, City Manager Isaiah Hugley told Council extra help was needed in the Tax Assessor’s Office because all available resources had been directed toward reviewing appeals over the last four months. He reminded councilors of a presentation made by Deputy Chief Appraiser John Williams at a previous meeting notifying them of the situation.
“They had 10,906 appeals, which resulted in their typical annual work being delayed, is what they conveyed to you,” he said. “And they said to you, unless addressed, this delay in their annual work would preclude them from timely submitting their portion of the tax digest to the tax commissioner by June 1.”
In order to meet that deadline tax notices would have to be mailed out by April, Hugley said. The department would have to review about 3,600 parcels for sales, transfers and permits from January through March of 2018.
He said Tyler Technologies has agreed to take on the work at $29 a parcel, totaling $104,000. The company was chosen because it’s already familiar with the software and area, and choosing a vendor through the RFP process would take too long, Williams said in a previous meeting.
“Today, they’re asking this council to vote to approve them doing what they need to do to assure that our tax digest next year is not in jeopardy,” Hugley told council, speaking on behalf of tax assessors. Muscogee County Chief Appraiser Betty Middleton stood at the podium to answer questions.
Councilor Glenn Davis immediately responded, stating that he would not support the request.
“... This matter has been going on for a long time,” he said. “There’s been a lot of additional resources, funding that has been pushed towards this.”
Davis said he believes the original contract with Tyler wasn’t followed when it came to timelines and schedules.
“... You know, I’m in business and somewhere you just have to draw the line and say, ‘Hey, you have to handle it through management,” he said. “This is a management of resources, and whatever it takes. It may take some long hours. It may take going the extra mile to make it happen, but I’m not in a position right now to utilize anymore resources to keep fixing something.”
Councilor Gary Allen asked for more details about how the additional human resources would be used.
Middleton said Tyler has agreed to allow Steve Wise, the project manager for the countywide revaluation project, to stay an extra 20 days under the current contract at no cost to the city. That’s in addition to the additional help being requested at $29 per parcel.
She said Wise’s time with the city was scheduled to end Dec. 1 under the original contract. Tyler is allowing him to stay until Feb. 2 to help staff and division managers with the appeals process, which is expected to continue until April.
Middleton said remaining appraisers will be reviewing a third of the city for 2018 valuations.
She said the additional Tyler employees being requested would conduct residential field work and bring the information back to city appraisers, who will determine property values.
Tyler had originally proposed doing the work for $30 a parcel, but city councilors had asked tax assessors to renegotiate the fees considering Tyler’s role in the controversial assessments. The company discounted the price by $1 per parcel.
On Tuesday, councilors asked tax assessors to ask Tyler for a bigger discount.
“A dollar a property, how much is that?” Allen asked. “... The only thing they’re giving up is $3,600 and allowing this gentlemen to stay 4 additional weeks, which I don’t think it’s enough skin in the game because of the problems Tyler helped to create.”
Middleton said she would asked, but doubted it would happen.
Hugley said tax assessors are running out of time and a decision has to be made so they can meet the April deadline.
“I know how you feel about Tyler; I do,” he said. “But bottom line, we’re either going to have a digest or we’re going to be like this next year. ... If we don’t get it done, the citizens will be outraged.”