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."