Assessor explains reappraisal notices
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Demons of the day: $4 gas. Groceries up and the housing market down.
The mail brings a formal notice — the “Tennessee Assessment Change Notice” — from Obion County Property Assessor Kathy Robertson. A reappraisal, the first since 2002, was recently completed of the 20,000 parcels of property in the county.
You scan the little postcard. Your eyes encounter these dreaded words: “Your appraised value for property tax purposes has changed.”
Changed? Does that mean an increase in property taxes?
Maybe yes. Maybe no.
“A reappraisal doesn’t automatically mean a tax increase for everybody. Some will pay more, some will pay less, some will pay about the same,” Ms. Robertson said.
The reappraisal yielded an increase in assessed valuation for most properties. “The average increase is 15 percent. That’s everything in the county, averaged together — all land types, everything,” she said. “Residential (homes) went up 15 percent, commercial went up 15 percent.”
Some property owners contend that a depressed housing market should not coincide with increased property taxes.
Ms. Robertson has heard it time and again since the postcards went out to property owners. She and her staff set up shop at the fairgrounds May 12-21 to meet with property owners concerned about reappraisal of their properties.
“We are saying to them, ‘That may very well be true, but the sales that we looked at, the year prior to the reappraisal, did not indicate (a slump in housing sales),” she said.
The data contained in the 2008 notices of change — those little postcards — are based on status of property as of Jan. 1, 2008.
“Our cutoff date was Jan. 1. So we looked at 2007 sales,” she said. “I’m not saying (a piece of property) didn’t sell for less in 2007 than it may have sold for in 2006. But we aren’t working with 2006 values.
“Our last reappraisal was in 2002. I don’t believe the market in any way was down from 2002. It may have been down from 2006 and 2007 slightly, but all our values are based on 2007. That 15 percent average increase, people see it as one year to the next. But that’s 15 percent since 2002.
“And that’s not unreasonable in comparison to anything. Look at gas and how much it’s increased.”
Ms. Robertson avers that the processes of reappraisal and assessment of property for tax purposes are “very complicated.” But in the final analysis, it serves a basic purpose: Public support — which is to say, financial support — of government operations.
We offer the following data:
• Certified tax rates —
During a reappraisal year, the State Board of Equalization issues a certified tax rate. With an increase in values, a lower tax rate can bring in the same revenue as the year before. “In a reappraisal year, if they exceed the recommended certified rate, there has to be a public notice and several meetings (beforehand),” Ms. Robertson said. “If they choose to exceed it, they have to show that the new money is needed for budget and that it’s not part of reappraisal.”
A county commission can raise or lower the rates as needed to keep the same amount of revenue coming in for the county budget.
Tax rates for the current fiscal year (2007-08), which ends June 30, were set by the county commission Aug. 20, 2007, at $2.20 “outside” Union City and $1.71 “inside” Union City. The commission will set new rates in July. Meanwhile, county government is operating under a continuing resolution, meaning the current budget will remain in place until a new one is adopted.
Ms. Robertson said the State Board projects the certified rate to go down. “I hate to say it for a fact because it’s only preliminary,” she said.
The $2.20 “outside” rate is projected to drop to $1.91; the $1.71 “inside” rate is projected to drop to $1.48. For right now, though, it’s a matter of wait and see.
“The county commission can do whatever it wants with that rate. I just hope they will adopt the certified rate,” she said.
• Revenue —
Estimated incoming revenue to operate county government this fiscal year is $43,576,737. Of that, $8,545,358 is generated by property taxation. In the current fiscal year, had 100 percent of property owners paid, one cent would have brought in $44,990. But there are always some delinquent taxes.
• Property taxes account for about 20 percent of the county’s budget each year. Property tax revenues support the county general fund, the county highway department fund, debt service and partial funding to both the Obion County and Union City school systems.
“We are through at the fairgrounds. We’ve moved all our files and personnel back to our permanent office at the courthouse,” Ms. Robertson said. “We got about 50 visits and 100 phone calls a day while we were at the fairgrounds from persons with questions about the reappraisal. We are still available to answer questions. Our local Board of Equalization will convene in June to hear from citizens who still have questions.
“So anyone who did not come to the fairgrounds can come to our regular office at the courthouse. And anyone who wants to go before the local board can contact us and we’ll put them on a list.
“The board may meet one day, it may meet two days. It depends on how many appointments there are.”
A date has not been set for the board to meet.
Published in The Messenger 5.26.08