As if the property tax reassessment uproar weren’t chaotic enough already.
Not only are a lot of homeowners, to quote Columbus Councilor Glenn Davis, “mad as hell” about some heavier-than-hefty hikes in their ad valorem estimates; but the process that led to those hikes is likely to cause a string of delays that could, at least temporarily, deprive the school system and the city of needed money even as taxpayers are having to fork over more of it.
Longtime Muscogee Tax Commissioner Lula Huff, in an interview with Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Alva James-Johnson, said Tuesday that for the first time in 20 years she will have to seek an extension on the Sept. 1 deadline for submitting the county’s tax digest to the state Department of Revenue.
As has been reported (and quite heatedly discussed) already, a conversion to new software in the tax assessor’s office was followed by a reassessment of about 70,000 parcels, which forced a 30-day delay in the mailing of tax notices, and a two-week postponement in the deadline for appeals.
Huff said she will have to get documentation of those numbers from the Board of Tax Assessors and possibly the council in order to file the request for an extension from the state.
The squeeze on the commissioner’s office isn’t hard to see. With the deadline for appeals moved to Aug. 14, that would give Huff’s office just over two weeks to meet a Sept. 1 deadline.
“I have to wait on the tax assessors to give me the books, which I do not anticipate it will be on 8/15,” she said, “and I have preparation that has to be done before it is delivered [to the state].”
The numbers that the tax commissioner ordinarily gets from the assessor’s office in June form the tax digest that is submitted to the state revenue office by Sept. 1. Once the state approves the tax digest, then the tax commissioner’s office sends out tax bills — which this year won’t happen until Oct. 1, with taxes due Dec. 1.
As of Tuesday, Huff said, 845 appeals had already been filed: “That averages about 47 appeals per day for 18 days since the appeals were mailed. Based on this average, approximately 2,113 appeals would be received during the 45-day appeal period.”
If the disputed number of parcels exceeds 8 percent — 5,548 in Muscogee — state approval of tax billing would be put on hold. That’s unlikely, but local real estate executive Reynolds Bickerstaff noted that even normal payment delays caused by a far above normal number of appeals could be troublesome: “Taxpayers do not have to make a payment until Dec. 1, when normally 60 percent of our bill would’ve been paid on Oct. 1. That’s 60 days the school board and the city will have to forgo revenue from property tax assessments.”
Under the circumstances, it’s a cinch homeowners aren’t the only ones mad as hell.