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Unhappy taxpayers can have their day in court

CONYERS -- Rockdale County resident John Meyers had his day in court Monday, telling Superior Court Judge David Irwin that he simply wanted "fairness and justness" in his appeal of his property tax assessment.

After hearing from Myers and the Rockdale County Board of Assessors, Irwin suggested in his typically colorful way that his decision probably won't please either party.

"Nobody is going to be happy with me. Nobody," he said. "The best thing about this is I'm not in the happiness business."

Irwin said he would have a ruling in the case in about a week.

Meyers is among a relatively small number of property owners in Rockdale County who have taken their challenge of their property tax assessments to Superior Court.

Under state law all properties must be appraised each year at fair market value and the property assessed at 40 percent of the appraised value for tax purposes. Dissatisfied taxpayers may appeal their assessments to the Board of Tax Assessors. If no agreement is reached at that point, the taxpayer may appeal further to the Board of Equalization, a hearing officer or go to binding arbitration, depending on the type and value of the property and the basis of the appeal.

Like Meyers, taxpayers who aren't satisfied with the results of their Board of Equalization appeal may be heard in Superior Court -- either in a jury trial or bench trial as in Meyers' case. Taxpayers are required to pay a $200 filing fee in order to be heard in court.

Rockdale Chief Tax Assessor Lamar Sims said over the past couple of years he's seen an increase in the number of appeals, which he attributed to a couple of factors -- extreme changes in property values and a change in state law.

"We've seen an increase not only because the values are so different now, but also because two years ago the law changed," he said. "Where in the past we sent a notice to anybody where their value had changed, now we are required by law to send every property owner an assessment notice, so it opened an opportunity for everybody to file an appeal."

Sims said some people appeal simply because they got a notice of assessed value and don't really understand why.

Most of those initial tax assessment appeals are resolved in negotiations with the Tax Assessor's Office, Sims said. When someone comes in with an appeal, he said assessors typically go out to review the property and make any adjustments that are appropriate.

Sims said he's seen a small increase -- about 1 percent out of 33,000 properties -- in the number of people who pursue an assessment appeal before the Board of Equalization. An even smaller number -- perhaps as many as 10 a year -- go to Superior Court, he said.

In court Monday, Meyers pointed out that 20 properties he reviewed in his Honey Creek subdivision neighborhood had decreased in value by a total of more than $750,000, based on values set by the county. He also said he did not believe the county had used foreclosures in Honey Creek in determining the value of his property.

Meyers based his argument for a reduced value on his home on an analysis of property assessments published in December 2012 in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

Based on its analysis, the newspaper reported that properties in Meyers' ZIP code were overvalued by 57 percent, and Meyers said he wanted his appraised value reduced by that percentage.

The county's 2012 value for his 2,412-square-foot home on a golf course was $148,900, the same as in 2011. Meyers argued that the value should have been set at $64,027.

Irwin pointed out that even if property values were decreased, the county would still need to generate a certain amount of revenue in order to operate and would simply increase the millage paid by all homeowners.

"I just don't want them to get it all from me, your honor," Meyers replied.

Irwin also hinted that Meyers might not get just what he requested.

"Pigs get fed; hogs get slaughtered," said Irwin.

Attorney Jennifer Little, representing Rockdale County, pointed out that the AJC article was not admissible as evidence and that Meyers had no other evidence to establish the value of his home. Even if the article were admissible, Little said the 57 percent overvaluation applies to the entire 30094 ZIP code, not just Meyers' neighborhood. She said the Tax Assessor's Office had offered to settle the dispute with a $90,000 appraisal of Meyers' property.

Lynn Cumbie, deputy director of the Board of Assessors, testified that, based on the age and condition of Meyers' home and comparable sales in the neighborhood, she would set the fair market value of Meyers' home at $114,100.

She also said that the foreclosures in Meyers' neighborhood weren't included in the appraisal process because they went back to the bank, and state law does not require those foreclosures to be considered.

Irwin said he would review all the evidence and "synthesize" the numbers presented to come to a decision on the property value.

"I have a great appreciation for both of y'all's positions," Irwin said. "I think yours may be too high," he said to Cumbie, "and his may be too low."

Comments

heresyafacts 1 year, 1 month ago

"even if property values were decreased, the county would still need to generate a certain amount of revenue " -- the problem is the continued wastefulness of this BOC and county offices. The recent addition of staff to the PR department, the addition of a Chief of Staff position, the expeditures for teleprompters, the purchase of BOC glamor shots for county offices -- all completely unnecessary, but don't think for a minute that the Chairman is thinking of how to cut back or develop a frugal standpoint with regard to county expenditures. Unfortunately for those who bought into Honey Creek or other formerly nice areas of Rockdale, the pigs -- being the entitlement low-rent crime-ridden out-of-work crowd -- moved in and voted into office two sorry commissioners, and now you -- being the income-producing, tax-paying, long-term-resident crowd -- are going to be slaughtered to help cover the cost of said pigs and fund the gov't they elected.

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AJK 1 year, 1 month ago

If properties are assessed artificially high, the BOC gets to say "We didn't increase your taxes". I think we heard that in the last election didn't we?

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Chris 1 year, 1 month ago

I'm sorry but the homeowner's claim that it is only worth $64,000 sounds like an attempt to shift his legitimate tax burden to the rest of the county's taxpayers. If recent home sales on his golf course support his claim, then fine. Otherwise this sounds like the voice of privilege seeking public subsidy.

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AJK 1 year, 1 month ago

"The county's 2012 value for his 2,412-square-foot home on a golf course was $148,900, the same as in 2011." "the Tax Assessor's Office had offered to settle the dispute with a $90,000 appraisal of Meyers' property." "Lynn Cumbie, deputy director of the Board of Assessors, testified that,.....she would set the fair market value of Meyers' home at $114,100" OK So why did they set the value at $148,900 in the first place? Had they set the value at $114,100 would this have even gone to court? Sounds like the county is trying to take from those who can to offset those who can't (or don't). I hope the Citizen does a follow up after Judge Irwin's ruling.

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VPublicola 1 year, 1 month ago

"OK So why did they set the value at $148,900 in the first place?"

Why, is stated in the article: Sims said he's seen a small increase -- about 1 percent out of 33,000 properties -- in the number of people who pursue an assessment appeal before the Board of Equalization. An even smaller number -- perhaps as many as 10 a year -- go to Superior Court, he said. With such odds in "your" favor, why would they!

Chris, qui tacet consentire videtur - he who is silent is assumed to consent. Each and every citizen has the right to appeal the county tax appraisal. Some exercise that right and some don't. For those that don't, I am very comfortable for them to pick up the burden.

I have appealed my appraisal three times since my tenure in Rockdale, most recently just a month ago. The Tax Assessor's office always denies my initial appeal, so I further appeal to the Board of Equalization. I have a 100% success rate at the Board of Equalization. It is not a difficult process for a person who can think critically and logically, and is willing to dedicate an hour or two to 'homework'. The taxpayer who is familiar with State law and with obatining and analyzing objective data stands a most excellent chance at winning their appeal. Mr. Meyers could have been successful at the Board of Equalization, but he failed to do his homework and took an unreasonable, largely subjective position. Based on objective data, the average fair market value across all home sales (2011 Bona Fide and Distressed properties) in the Honey Creek subdivision was about $122,000. Based on my experience, if Mr. Meyers had used that data and come to a reasonable objective value for his home then he would have won his appeal at the Board of Equalization. Instead, he used flawed information from a news article to develop an unreasonable and inaccurate value of $64,027 for his home. With regards to Mr. Meyers home, if one looks at the sales data from that neighborhood for comparable homes (2,200-2,600 sq ft) to Mr. Meyers then the fair market value ranges from $40,500 (distressed) to $157,000 with an average of about $114,000. Thus, without consideration of any other factors/details, if I were the Jusge then my decision would fall between $114,000 to $122,000.

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BUBBA 1 year, 1 month ago

wow 200$ to be heard in court...that is 4 times what my taxes are in a year

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AJK 1 year, 1 month ago

That's for filing the case. If you prevail, you get your $200 back.

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Innocent_Bystander 1 year, 1 month ago

Crikey. Meyers purchases the house from Ray Jones 40 years ago for $70,000 and watched the values rise and fall to the point that the settling value offer from the county is $20,000 more than what he paid for it in 1973.

A decrease value of 40% at the appeal end of this matter....and he wants to go to court?

Reading into the Judge's comment: "Pigs get fed; hogs get slaughtered,"

I'd be worried if the county attempted to negotiate DOWN almost $59K before choosing to take up the court's time....for $200 and Judge Irwin were to say something about a hog getting slaughtered.

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