Floyd County Commission Chairman Irwin Bagwell said the amount of people who had concerned about how the downtown district had
gone up in value so much prompted the Board of Commissioners to seek a performance review of the assessor’s office by the Georgia Department of Revenue.
“We wanted to make sure that everything was done by the book. Not pointing fingers. We just wanted to make sure the process was carried out as the law prescribes,” Bagwell said.
He said commissioners John Mayes and Garry Fricks had been on the commission the last time a review was conducted and both concurred that it might be a good time to do it again.
Earnie A. Deen, a property tax appraiser with the Local Government Services Division of the Georgia Department of Revenue; Terry W. Gilreath, chief appraiser in the Walker County assessor’s office; and Ashley O’Donald, chief appraiser for the Gordon County Board of Assessors; were appointed to conduct the review. The full report was submitted to the Floyd County Commission in November, as the local Board of Assessors was completing its appeals process for property owners in Floyd County.
The three-man team was charged with conducting a thorough investigation of the Floyd County Board of Assessors, with a specific investigation in to the technical competency of the appraisal techniques and holding to state law. In addition to the thee-man team, five state Department of Revenue property appraisers who conducted field reviews and analyzed appropriate data also assisted the performance review panel.
One of the first finds of the Performance Review Board was that the minutes of Board of Assessors meetings indicated that there was clear communication between the appraisal staff and the Board of Assessors regarding valuation process, however, supporting documentation discussed during the meetings was not attached to the minutes.
“When the guy came up here, he wanted to look at the minutes and then he wanted to see the back up to them, or he wanted them attached to them,” McWhorter said. “That’s one thing we’ll do better.”
The Performance Review Board found no issue with the general appraisal methodologies used by the local office and no issue with the appraisals of urban land. The panel did note that “the appraisal staff is extracting the value of standing timber from land sales prior to using those sales in the rural land valuation process as required by law. However, the PRB found no evidence that indicated the value of saw timber was extracted from sales.”
McWhorter took issue with that evaluation.
“We look at all the timber every year. I’ve got a spread sheet that I’ll bet you no county has in the state of Georgia in the way we do timber,” McWhorter said. “I’ll explore that a little bit more.”
The PRB also made a specific note that the county should reappraise all personal property annually, even when the property owner has failed to return the property at a different value.
“The code section says that if you don’t make a return your return is the same value as you did the year before, and that’s what we do,” McWhorter said.
The whole personal property issue is one that many, if not most, property owners don’t pay a great deal of attention to. Roger Wade, who owns several properties in downtown Rome, said property owners are supposed to file a property return by April 1 each year stating what the value of the property is. A legal ad to that effect runs in the Rome News-Tribune at the first of the year.
“I intend to file one this year and hopefully everybody else will file one,” Wade said.
“I don’t think we’ll change the way we do
personal property because we think we do that exactly right,” McWhorter said.
Contrary to allegations, which led to the request for a performance review, the three-man PRB found no evidence that the appraisal staff was “sales chasing,” which is an inappropriate method of looking at parcels which were recently sold, selectively reappraising those parcels in an effort to enhance sales ratio studies.
The PRB did find that the county’s procedures for measuring and listing physical characteristics of structures appeared to be consistent.
There were concerns though that the appraisal of aircraft and marine accounts regarding failure by the county to apply depreciation or inflation factors in determining the appropriate annual value. The report concluded that the county needed to add all marine equipment to the computer assisted mass appraisal system to make certain that all taxable property is returned for taxation.
The report also recommended that aircraft accounts be selected for audit.
Bagwell said the PRB report came back about the way he anticipated it would.
“We weren’t really looking for anything but if anything turned up we wanted to be in a position to take care of it if we needed to do anything,” Bagwell said.