Citizens complain, officials explain as county property values discussed

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 17, 2001

New property values continued to be in the spotlight Monday ascitizens sought answers and state and local officials offeredexplanations at the Lincoln County Board of Supervisorsmeeting.

Sid Smith, director of the property tax division of the stateTax Commission, said all state counties have been required toreappraise property values by 2002 under a new manual that wasadopted in 1998. Failure to do so will cost counties theirhomestead exemption credit funds from the state and a one-mill taxlevy for reappraisal.

Smith said Lincoln County officials had been warned for the lasttwo years that its property value ratios were out of line withacceptable fair market value guidelines, and the county could beplaced under a special order if the situation was not addressed.With no countywide reappraisal since the 1980s, the county had areappraisal several years ago, but Smith indicated values were outof line again.

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“We were still having problems,” Smith said.

Recently-released new property values sparked a number ofcomplaints from citizens who saw their values increase, in somecases by several hundred percent.

Lincoln County Tax Assessor-Collector Nancy Jordan urgedcitizens with complaints to let their objections be known duringJuly. Appraiser Reed Herring will review objections before an Aug.6 supervisors meeting when the board will act on theobjections.

Citizens Monday questioned Herring’s qualifications to do theappraisal work, the selection process and how some of the newvalues were determined.

“I have been drug to the tax office until I’m fed up with it,”said Betty Montgomery, a mobile home park owner who said some ofher property values had gone up 400 percent.

Characterizing the local economy as a collection of “hamburgerjoints,” Montgomery said Brookhaven was a depressed area. Shequestioned citizens’ ability to meet their property taxobligations.

“Where are the people going to get the money to pay theseasinine taxes you put on the people?” Montgomery asked.

Property values are used in conjunction with the tax levy todetermine the amount of property taxes people will pay. With thehigher values, District 1 Supervisor Cliff Givens said he wanted tolower the tax levy to get revenue “back down as close to right aswe can get.”

Citizen John Perkins questioned Jordan and the board on theselection of Herring and whether it was done in accordance with thelaw.

“I have not been able to find any information from anybody inthis building that it was properly done,” Perkins said.

Jordan said she sought bids and recommended Herring aftercontacting 11 other counties who said they were satisfied with hiswork.

In response to Perkins’ questions about certificationrequirements, Board Attorney Bob Allen cited an “as otherwiseprovided by law” phrase in the state statute and said the selectionprocess was legal.

Perkins maintained the selection was against the law or poorjudgment.

“My contention is that it was a mistake,” Perkins said.

Earlier in the meeting, Smith said there was no real requirementfor certification for someone to do a mass appraisal. He saidappraisers have been required to take contractor tests since themid-1980s.

“That’s all you had to have through now,” Smith said.

Smith said there are about 460 certified appraisers in thestate, but most of those are in counties that do their appraisalsin-house. Those tax offices are required to have a minimum numberof certified appraisers for a certain number of parcels.

Lincoln County has a $211,000 contract for Herring to do thereappraisal work.

Jordan said July is for citizens to voice objections and to giveofficials time to review values.

The assessor was able to identify one objection raised Monday asa keypunch error. In it, a piece of county property was calculatedfor fair market value instead of agriculture use value as it shouldhave been.

“Any time you do 23,000 parcels, you’re going to have keypuncherrors,” Jordan said.

Also discussed Monday was the city’s $175,000 purchase and thecounty’s $89,000 purchase of properties near the governmentcomplex. Many believe the sales affected the values assigned tosome surrounding properties.

Citizen Steve Melancon said the purchases were prime examples of”brother-in-law” deals and should not be included in determiningother values.

Jordan also expressed concerns, and said she is looking intothat situation. But, she added, the state would not allow her tonot count those she thought were too high.

Another possible reason for some higher property values is thenew manual adopted in 1998.

Smith said the old manual did not take into consideration somenewer building materials, fixtures and other factors. He said theold manual was only able to assess for about 70 percent of a newerhome’s value, while the new manual is able to assess at about 90-95percent of a home’s fair market value.

“It causes an increase in some of your higher class properties,”Smith said.

Herring said he would start re-evaluating property valueobjections as soon as possible. W.D. “Doug” Moak, supervisorspresident, indicated the board would be taking a cautious approachas it proceed with the value objections.

“We’re not going to make any hasty decisions,” Moak said inwrapping Monday’s discussion.