Friday, June 4, 2010

Assessment fairness under scrutiny

The sunk housing market, studies by the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, a news expose about property assessments, publicity surrounding the assessment reforms of SB 346, and a class-action lawsuit in Fulton County have all highlighted the discrepancies between falling property values and rising or stagnant tax assessments in Georgia.

Nevertheless, some owners did not file property tax returns during DeKalb County’s January to March return season. (Or for that matter, throughout the state during the January to April return window of most counties.) What that means for owners who did not file a return is that no automatic review of the property’s value was initiated. Owners who did not file for a new value and who did not receive a notice of assessment change will retain their value from last year even though the market value may have declined.

Even the people who did file or who received a notice of assessment change for other reasons have begun questioning their assessor’s determinations. State Rep. Mike Jacobs has questioned the validity of change of assessment notices here in DeKalb. Jacobs and other critics have argued that the county ignored property returns and that they’ve proposed increased values despite a statewide freeze. Any defense of the county is likely to include the arguments that it is within the assessor’s authority to disagree with the returned value, and that property improvements are not subject to the freeze.

But leaving the legal wrangling aside for the moment, the most important and time-sensitive thing that property owners can do if they disagree with their new assessment is to appeal within 30 days of receiving their notice. If you did not receive a notice, you cannot appeal your value for 2010.

Although the City of Decatur tax office is not involved with assessments and we cannot change assessments, I strongly encourage any property owner in Decatur who believes their assessment to be out of line, but who has missed the deadline to appeal this year, to put a reminder to yourself on your calendar for 2011.  The good news for Georgia property taxpayers is that because of SB 346 (which was signed by Gov. Perdue today), everybody will receive an assessment notice in 2011 meaning everybody will have the chance to appeal (even though this could have been done through the return process anyway).  You don’t want to pay on the basis of a flawed assessment, and we have zero desire to bill you on that basis either.

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