New property values out of line, most believe

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, August 7, 2001

District 5 Supervisor Gary Walker sighed heavily as he loosenedhis tie Monday afternoon following a full day of hearing residents’objections to new county property values.

“One down, four to go,” District 4 Supervisor W.D. “Doug” Moaksaid as board members, county officials and property appraisersconcluded the first day of a week of scheduled hearings on thecontroversial new values.

While voicing a variety of concerns, from tax ramifications to apossible economic impact, property owners repeatedly described thevalues as “excessive” and “out of line.” Some owners cited valuesthat had doubled or more.

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Businesswoman Betty Montgomery urged county officials to usecommon sense in addressing the values situations. Montgomery wasobjecting to values assigned to her 42 pieces of rental and otherproperties.

“I’ve never been down here before quibbling, but it’s quibblingtime now, gentlemen,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said county officials were trying to “demonize” thestate in explaining new values following the state-mandatedappraisal, but she thought the fault lied locally. Theself-described “lightning rod of Brookhaven,” who grew up duringthe Depression, said appraisers were suffering from “grandillusions” and voiced concerns about another economic downturn.

“If y’all don’t get your heads screwed on right, we’re going tobe in a depression bigger than ever,” Montgomery said.

Tax Assessor-Collector Nancy Jordan said some of Montgomery’sproperty values had been adjusted after she filed an objectionletter earlier. Jordan did not give any specific examples.

Appraiser Wayne Herring said a number of property owners hadtheir values adjusted prior to Monday’s hearings, but it was notfeasible to notify them of the changes before the meeting. He didnot say how many had been adjusted or by how much.

Other owners’ objections were taken under advisement for reviewby the appraiser and action by supervisors, who are now responsiblefor equalization of values. The owners are to be notified regardingwhatever action is taken.

Herring and Jordan defended new values by saying that someinformation used in the appraisal work was limited. Following aproperty sale, Jordan said she is required to send out aquestionnaire seeking sale price and other information, but saleparticipants are not required to return it.

“If all we get is high sales, that’s what you’re going to bebased on,” Jordan said.

Herring said some citizens believe it is “nobody’s business”what a person paid for a piece of property. With the hearings, hesaid officials were getting pertinent information that now couldallow some adjustments.

“If there’s adjustments to be made, we’ll make them,” Herringsaid.

With the limited information, Herring said appraisers had to”blend” values on areas with recent sales with those without recentsales. He said appraisers must assign a value between 85 and 105percent of a property’s true market value, although he acknowledgedthe possibility of miscalculations.

“We’re going to make mistakes. It’s not a perfect science,”Herring said.

Herring also pointed to past values that were too far out ofline. Following the last countywide appraisal in 1997, LincolnCounty has been warned by the State Tax Commission to update itsvalues or lose state homestead exemption credit funding.

“A lot of the problem is it wasn’t done right to begin with,”Herring said.

Connley Moak, a certified fee real estate appraiser, presentedalmost seven pages of examples where he thought values wereincorrect. Values in the examples ranged from 50 percent to morethan double what he thought was reasonable.

“These are just ridiculously high land values,” Moak said.

The values’ effect on rental properties was the concern ofseveral owners. Citizen Tommy R. Burns mentioned $300 a month inrent he receives from a local industry employee and his collegestudent wife.

“All you’re doing is hurting them. Their rent’s going to go up,”Burns said.

John D. Coleman expressed similar concerns about the effect onrenters.

“They’re the ones who can’t afford it,” he said. “You’re puttingthe burden on the smaller people.”

But renters were not the only focus of Burns’ and Coleman’scomments.

“The people with property in the city are going to get hitterrible,” Coleman said, referring to the fact that city propertyowners pay three tax bills for the city, county and schooldistrict.

In an effort to offset higher property values, supervisors andaldermen may lower the tax millage rate. Burns said he understoodsupervisors’ lowering the millage rate, but he indicatedreservations about the separate school district doing the same.

“They’re not going to cut us any slack,” Burns said. “They’regoing to gig us for every penny they can.”

At an earlier budget hearing, city school district officialssaid they expected the millage rate to decrease.

Some property owners Monday were interested in the effect thenew values would have on the millage rate and their taxes. Countyofficials said the millage rate would not be set until they approvethe budget, which must be done by Oct. 1.

Property owners should find out their tax burdens in Decemberwhen notices are sent out.

Citizen John Perkins pointed that a number of residents did notget notices that their property values had risen by $1,000 or more.He said some of the notices, which Jordan sent out as a courtesy,were returned.

“I’m afraid in December some people are going to get a bigsurprise and be here knocking on the door,” he said.

Other residents said county officials were doing a “bad thing”to retirees with the higher property values. Despite retireedevelopment efforts, Maud Richardson said the values could causeolder citizens to “bypass Brookhaven like it’s not even on themap.”

For sentimental or other reasons, some property owners admittedto paying more for their property than what it was appraised for,yet they still believed the county-set value was too high.

Robert W. Johnston said he paid $212,000 for a Noble Drive homeappraised at $189,000, and Tammy Jackson said she paid $132,000 fora home valued at $100,000 in another area. The Noble Drivehomeowner was seeking an adjustment due to slower local real estateconditions while the other wanted an adjustment because of therailroad crossed part of the land.

Like others, county officials took those objections underadvisement for review.

Overall Monday, county officials heard from more than 30citizens objecting to their property values. Objection hearingswere to continue through Friday, with about 35 citizens scheduledfor hearings each day.