Property values protest growing

Published 5:00 am Thursday, July 12, 2001

As citizens sign up to protest new property values at an Augustsupervisors’ meeting, questions surrounding selection of thecounty’s appraiser and property value determination are beginningto surface.

Minutes from the March 6, 2000, supervisors meeting show theboard unanimously approving a contract with Herring Appraisers andComputer Services of Wilkinson County to do a state-mandated updateof property values in the county. The cost for those services andmapping was $211,000, according to the minutes.

“That was done through bid and Reed Herring was the lowest,”said Lincoln County Tax Assessor-Collector Nancy Jordan, whenreached for comment at a state tax assessors conference on thecoast Wednesday.

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Jordan said others who bid on the work included Shelton Rogers,who had handled the services for Lincoln County since around 1980,and Kenny Peeples. Rogers only bid on the mapping aspect of thecontract.

Herring’s proposal was the only one included in supervisors’minutes. Bid documents from other appraisers were unavailable.

Citing differences in contract proposals, Jordan said offers forthe two services had to be combined for evaluation of services.Jordan added that she was told she was not required to seek bidsfor the professional services work.

Nevertheless, Jordan said she chose to bid the work andrecommended Herring to supervisors after contacting 11 othercounties in which he had worked. Those counties all said they weresatisfied, Jordan said.

“You also have to do what you think is best for the county,”Jordan said.

Herring’s firm is involved in a Madison County case regardingwhether that county’s supervisors acted legally in awarding acontract to Herring without seeking bids. One issue in the case isHerring’s not being certified by the Mississippi Real EstateCommission.

Jordan said it was not mandatory for Herring to be certified.The head of the state Tax Commission’s Property Tax Division told aJackson newspaper that only three of 20 contractors doing appraisalwork in the state are certified.

Records show Lincoln County has paid Herring $155,506 for workdone from Oct. 1, 2000, through May 10, 2001. Herring’s appraisalwork was to be completed June 1.

Notices were sent out last week to over 11,000 property ownerswhose values had gone up $1,000 or more. The notices stirredconfusion and anger as some values had more than doubled ortripled.

Jordan defended the new values as being based “strictly onmarket sales.”

“Property in that area has been selling for that value,” shesaid.

District 1 Supervisor Cliff Givens said Wednesday he hadreceived a number of calls from citizens concerned about thenotices and the values that Herring had assigned.

“I’m not saying he’s right or he’s wrong in the appraisal,”Givens said, “but some of my stuff is outrageous.”

Givens disputed Jordan’s assertion that the values were based onsales. He mentioned a piece of his property that was appraised at$92,000.

“I’ll give her $5,000 of it if she gets a $92,000 sale formine,” Givens said.

Last year, Givens said he expressed reservations about changingto Herring, but the board went along with Jordan’s recommendationand her desire to work with Herring.

“I didn’t want to give it to him to start with,” said Givens,who expected the property notice situation to be discussed atMonday’s regular board meeting.

Supervisors are scheduled to hear objections to new propertyvalues at their meeting on Aug. 6. New property values are open forinspection during July in the board of supervisors room.

Jordan said she and Herring or a representative would also bepresent at the August meeting. She encouraged citizens to check thevalues.

“They need to do their objections during July while the booksare open,” Jordan said.

Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said the stack of property valueobjection letters is growing. He has been researching boardrequirements and its authority to make adjustments to erroneousappraisals.

“They need to have this information,” Bishop said.

According to Sect. 27-35-89 of the state code, “the board shallequalize the assessment and may increase or diminish the valuationof any property, so that property of the same value shall beassessed for an equal sum.”

“We’ve got the right to rule them out or rule them in,” Givenssaid.

If property values are accepted, Givens said he would supportlowering the tax levy, or millage rate, as much as possible to tryand offset the property value increases.

Jordan said she is responsible only for assigning a propertyvalue based on the selling price of similar property in anarea.

“What that would do to taxes is strictly up to the board andwhat they will need to operate the county,” Jordan said, while alsodiscussing lowering the tax levy to try and offset value increases.”Just because values go up it’s not given that taxes go up.”

Jordan said she will be responsible for collecting propertytaxes after supervisors have set the millage rate.

Jordan said the county cannot take in more than 10 percent morethan it did this year in property taxes. Any amount over 10 percentwould have to be escrowed for use in the next year, she said.

The tax assessor also addressed some confusion that was createdby the timing of last week’s notices. Many residents did notreceive the notices until Friday, July 6, and a sentence on themail out suggested that was the last day to contact the taxassessor’s office.

Jordan said the mail service was unable to get the notices outearlier in the week, and she apologized for their late arrival. Shesaid the sentence was put on the notice in an effort to avoideveryone having to show up at the Aug. 6 supervisors meeting.

“We were trying to answer questions from people that we couldassist,” Jordan said.