So, maybe those local tax chasers are actually third and fourth among government watchdogs whose attention most hope they never catch. The sheriff and police chiefs are probably even less popular among a small percentage of the population, but a lot of those probably don’t pay taxes anyhow.
It’s also hard to imagine jobs that could be both more misunderstood and unappreciated.
In Floyd County the elected tax commissioner, Kevin Payne, basically only can do what the General Assembly and local commissions/school boards tell him and then try to collect what those entities believe that they are owed. The assessor’s office, headed locally by Chief Appraiser Bill McWhorter, basically can do only what the forces of the market say is realistic.
Therefore it was good to see a state review of the operations of the Floyd County Board of Tax Assessors determine it was “operating well and under a competent management team.” Such reviews are actually routine and done every three years, the last in 2009, but drew a lot of extra notice this time because of being concurrent with some major upset/objection regarding reassessments of downtown properties.
That also turned out well for at least some property owners. There were 75 appeals of which some 55 resulted in changes with a cumulative assessment drop of 16.6 percent. Of course, the city and its schools, the county (but not its schools) still made out rather nicely as the downtown Rome commercial district contains a total of 148 properties that originally went up 28.5 percent or roughly $11,613,420 in value. With only about a third of those being adjusted downward but not to zero, one suspects that local governments are still about $9 million to the good, which sorely needed to be added to the tax digest in times of constant budgetary pinches. Actually, might help keep the lid on the taxes of most readers.
THIS ALSO wasn’t a sudden one-year leap ... because of the temporary assessment freeze back in 2006 none of those properties had been looked at — or, more properly, guessed at — for five or six years. And in that time frame there is zero doubt but that the downtown has become a better and more valuable neighborhood to be in particularly for those now making profits from ventures they established in properties where a lot of added money was spent in making repairs and upgrades.
But not all, at least not yet, and most of the lowering of value guesses — for that is what they typically are — involved holdings that were unchanged by time or improvements.
Most Greater Romans don’t have much of an idea of how all this works. If the assessor’s forces needed to come through your home/holding every year to value it then there would have to be at least 20 to 200 times more of them. Floyd County has 48,000 parcels/homes/businesses that are individually valued. Anybody out there want to see their property taxes go up by an added mill or two so government workers can poke around inside your house every year?
So, for the most part, the assessors update those bills annually using overall formulas involving similar square footages, room divisions, neighborhood, general real-estate trends and so forth. When the writer bought his unusually configured homestead the closest “comparable” found was about 10 miles away. And, in other than the “under roof” portion, in no ways comparable.
Plus, in times like these when market value trends are hard to figure with volume of sales/construction way down from years past — and prices as well — just figuring out what a fair-market value might be is made far more difficult.
ACTUALLY — and the purpose here is not to give local government “new ideas” on how to find more money as it would cost bunch in added employees to do so — there being so much guesswork involved means that many, many property owners have been undervalued for years. And that the total tax digest is almost certainly considerably below what the grand total of all Greater Rome properties are worth, particularly the homesteads.
One suspects the fairly recent expansion of “building permits” to cover a lot of really mundane, ordinary improvements involves collecting more than new fees. It also helps tells the assessor, without having to knock on any door, what values have been added and thus what assessments should be increased.
Value can be added by other than putting on an addition, and while even do-it-yourself remodeling projects require a permit, they did not always and even now that is often unknown or ignored. Doesn’t a major kitchen remodel — that some homeowners are actually handy enough to undertake themselves — add to the resale value of a property?
It is not quite to the point where changing the color of your living room walls requires a permit and then kicks up the assessment/tax on your home by 1 percent if a government worker agrees it is attractive, but there are a lot of booby traps out there regarding which most are not aware.
For example, a few years back, in connection with a valuation appeal on the writer’s part, one of the assessor’s team came out to do a once-over and measurement of my real-estate holdings (to little positive result). First time actually there in about 25 years, as best I could determine.
In the process of idle chitchat while walking around, the writer mentioned he was thinking about putting garage doors on his attached two-vehicle carport to keep the transient cats and wandering snakes out. He was cautioned that doing so would add roughly 500 square feet of “enclosed space” to his house that would become taxable whereas, as a carport, it was not.
WE’RE TALKING three walls and a roof attached to the main house, no insulation, gaps between the planks through which sunlight streams in, no heat, no air, no plumbing and if you tried to use it as a child’s bedroom or such would likely be cause for arrest for cruelty or neglect.
Needless to say, the transient cats still settle in there to get out of the winter winds, triggering the motion-sensor lights in the process, while the wandering snakes are being encouraged to stay away by a regular application of scattered mothballs.
One does wonder how many folks out there installed garage doors, or laid their own little patio out back, or even had the work done in pre-permit days and have not reported such taxable improvements to the tax man?
Sometimes it really is better to just let sleeping dogs lie, and particularly so if they are guard pitbulls who might not like an assessor just dropping around for a look-see.
There’s probably a lot of extra money out there for the taxing with a more aggressive and intrusive assessment system. It’s probably not worth the grief involved for taxpayers and assessors alike. Sometimes practice doesn’t make perfect but instead creates something everybody just kind of agrees to live with.