Better Governing Now » Tax Assessor encourages property owners to take advantage of appeals process


Tax Assessor encourages property owners to take advantage of appeals process

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    Everyone wants their property to be appraised at a high value; unless it's the tax man who's ordering the appraisal. Many Beaufort County residents are, in fact, currently disputing their property valuation notices, known as "Notice of Real Estate Assessed Value," mailed by the Beaufort County Tax Assessor's office on Mar. 29, on the grounds that they are beyond fair-market value, and in fear of correspondingly elevated property taxes.

    Beaufort County Tax Assessor Bobby Parker gave credence to these property owners' concerns at last night's Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meeting. Even though the appraisers were given roughly five extra months to attempt to compensate for the lack of timely market data, due to dwindling property sales, Parker said that after the five months, sometimes the market data still wasn't there and appraisers had to rely on the cost-approach appraisal method from afar to determine 'fair value.'

Beaufort County Tax Assessor Bobby Parker gives the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners an update on the tax reevalation at yesterday's meeting.

    The cost approach to valuation is the most optimistic of appraisal methods, typically resulting in more elevated prices. It is usually employed as a last resort, when comparable sales are unavailable. The cost approach figures the depreciated reproduction or replacement cost of improvements, plus the market value of the site. The cost approach gives the best indication of market value when the property in question is new and at its highest and best use. Obviously, this ideal wasn't always, or even normally, the case in Beaufort County, which has a large share of older homes.

    Months ago, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners considered this deficiency of comparable sales and the obstacles of relying on the cost approach, and unanimously voted to request additional time from the state government, the entity responsible for requiring such reevaluations, to allow for more sales to take place.

    "This is something we did as a governing body to give ourselves additional data to have the flexibility to achieve a better understanding of the market value and, hopefully, reduce some of the assessments, since it appears that property values are now going down, which is the first time that's ever happened in my recollection in Beaufort County," said Beaufort County Commissioner Stan Deatherage, after the meeting.

    But five months was simply not adequate time to produce enough comparables, yet the Beaufort County Tax Assessor's office still bore the burden of appraising 44,360 pieces of property by that deadline. The burden is on the county to assess county properties at 100 percent of fair market value, at least every eight years. Parker said that his office worked until midnight of the last allowed day, Mar. 25, trying to get as close to fair market value as possible, given the circumstances.

    "I think (values) could still be adjusted," relented Parker, advising property owners to take advantage of the appeals process.

    Property owners have two avenues to take in order to appeal their property valuation notices: one, they can request, within 15 days of receiving their notice, an informal review by a real-estate appraiser; or, two, they can wait and formally appeal to the Board of Equalization and Review, and state their case before the county commissioners.

    "We're not trying to overvalue," said Parker. "Please come to the informal hearings. Please come to the Board of Equalization, if you feel that you need to."

    Commissioner Jay McRoy asked how many people had, thus far, called the tax office with complaints since the tax valuations were distributed.

    "I'd say it's been fairly steady," said Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill, to which Parker agreed.

    Parker estimated that roughly 400 to 500 people have called his office and started the appeals process. He apologized for any phone problems or delays, due to the volume of calls, and encouraged people to keep trying. Commissioner Hood Richardson echoed this advice.

    "If you have a complaint, now is the easy fix," Richardson said. "It's when the mistake cannot be corrected by the appraisers and you have to go through the formal hearings that things get tough."

    During the public comment portion of yesterday's meeting, property owner Howard Hutchinson asked that the 15-day grievance period be extended until after the Beaufort County commissioners agree on and approve the new property tax rate, so that he will know whether or not he wants to appeal.

    Deatherage advised Hutchinson not to wait until the rate is approved, as it will never be low enough to suit him or anybody. Though the commissioners pledged to keep the tax rate revenue neutral--meaning they won't take in more than is needed to satisfy the budget--and that the rate will likely fall, property taxes will still, almost certainly, increase due to the new property tax values, he said.

    "It's my sincere prayer that when May is over with we'll be finished," said Commissioner Jerry Langley.

    Unfortunately, this won't be possible, as the matter will undoubtedly extend into, at least, June.

    The Board of Equalization and Review has set a flexible schedule for formal hearings running from Apr. 30 to June 30. County Manager Spruill will present his budget proposal to the commissioners in mid-May. At that time, the commissioners will begin setting the tax rate.

Anita C. Radcliffe Named Beaufort County Finance Director/CFO Beaufort County Commissioners, County Governments, Local Government Jerry Langley Elected Chairman of the Beaufort County Board of County Commissioners