Spike in Richmond County values delivers shocks

Despite a down economy, many south Augusta property owners are surprised to learn, via the tax assessor's office, that their property values have risen.

 

The notices, mailed May 12, caused sticker shock in areas of new development and in parts of Richmond County still in farmland.

Barbara Hundley was taken aback when the value of her home on 3.6 acres near Blythe increased by $32,300.

"It just makes me feel like politicians are taking advantage of us hard-working, red-blooded Americans," said Hundley, a retiree whose husband built the brick house before he died.

Where she lives, part of a larger tract first deeded by King George to her ancestors, the county provides no services.

"I mean, none," she said. "I have to put my own newspapers in the recycling."

Hundley is one of more than 22,000 property owners notified their property values had increased.

She plans to appeal the reassessment, and owners of 388 parcels already had filed appeals last week.

The board of assessors took care to ensure its method of revaluing properties was fair, said Charles Smith, the board's chairman since 2003.

Inaccurate land schedules had been in use in several areas, including agricultural districts and the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment zone.

The schedules, used to gauge the price of land, saw some big changes this year. For large agricultural or forested tracts, the price per acre increased from $1,200 to as much as $2,700, Smith said.

The office used its nine-person staff to assess all the properties except for agricultural land, for which it hired an outside firm, Smith said.

Land values also went up in the historic Laney-Walker neighborhood, where many dilapidated properties are targeted for redevelopment under a city-guided plan.

The land schedules, unchanged in 15 or 20 years, increased lot values to $15,000 or more where private nonprofit groups have built new homes, said Donna Murray, the deputy chief appraiser.

The lots where older homes still stand remain around $2,500.

Assessors looked at neighborhoods all over south Augusta -- Laney-Walker, Bethlehem, Turpin Hill, Pepperidge, Apple Valley, the cities of Hephzibah and Blythe, Diamond Lakes and beyond.

A factor that sent some values down was the number of foreclosures.

Houses that sold at auction for lower values or had been damaged or destroyed by residents during a foreclosure affected the value of neighboring properties, Murray said.

The city mailed 11,383 notices to owners whose properties had fallen in value, and sent 289 to owners of new properties. Owners whose properties did not change received no notice.

Residents of new south Augusta subdivisions such as Manchester, near Diamond Lakes, saw a rise in property values. Among them, Commissioner Alvin Mason was surprised to find his new house's value had gone up $65,000.

The board had considered performing a countywide revaluation of all 80,000 parcels but decided against it in light of the inaccurate land schedules, the resignation of Chief Appraiser Calvin Hicks last year and the death in February of administrative assistant Christine Smith, Charles Smith said.

Instead, it decided to update the schedules and "make the adjustments we know we need to make," while remaining in compliance with state law, he said.

New subdivisions and properties add to Augusta's taxable digest, though no growth in the digest is projected this year, Smith said.

After a decade of growth, the digest shrank 0.3 percent last year.

Elsewhere around the country, cities are seeing percentage decreases in the double digits. Augusta is "very blessed" to maintain such stability in property values, Smith said.

The office will finalize the digest, removing tax-exempt properties, adding personal property and making other adjustments before forwarding it to the Augusta Commission and the county board of education, which set the millage.

Property owners appealing the reassessment must have a reason -- either the value is incorrect, the property is not taxable or the value isn't consistent with similar properties.

If denied, an owner can appeal to the board of equalization, then through the court system.

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