About 95 percent of Richmond County properties have been undervalued for the past two years, city tax assessors report, a discrepancy that could cost the city more than $458,000 in fines if not corrected by the end of this year.
A citywide property revaluation approved Wednesday night by the Richmond County Board of Assessors will attempt to remedy those inequities. The move is expected to meet with protests from hundreds, if not thousands, of property owners who pay taxes based on a percentage of their homes' value. When assessed value goes up, so do the taxes that are collected on it.
"We are bringing these values up so that we can give equity to everyone according to state law," said Bert Thomas, the chairman of the assessors. "This is a bullet we're going to have to bite. I know we are going to have some problems with these homeowners, because they've had some low, low values (until now)."
The homes that appear to be the most undervalued and, in turn, are expected to see some of the biggest increases, are in west Augusta and Summerville, said Sonny Reece, the chief appraiser.
Some homes and commercial properties in those largely affluent areas have been reassessed at values that are 35 percent higher than their current appraised value.
Land parcels throughout the city also are severely undervalued, including large tracts of property in south Augusta, Mr. Reece said.
About 95 percent of the revaluation notifications will inform property owners of an increased assessed value. An additional 18,331 properties throughout the county were not reassessed, Mr. Reece said, mainly in areas where there has been little or no building or sales activity, including the Barton Chapel area, Bennock Mill Road, the Bethlehem community and the Gracewood area.
Because most of the county's property assessments are higher, the assessor's office is expecting many appeals.
"We're going to get some interesting phone calls - (property owners) are going to be awakened," Mr. Reece said, adding that "we will get things fixed if they're wrong."
The last time the county did a total revaluation was in 1999, which was the last year local governments received an automatic increase because of reassessments, Mr. Reece said.
Since then, assessment increases have been offset by a corresponding decrease in millage. State law requires local governing bodies to give public notice that taxes will increase and hold three public hearings.
Assessed values have failed to increase since 1999 partly because of outdated and non-Y2K-compliant computer software in the tax assessor's office, Mr. Reece said.
Every three years, the state audits the city to ensure that all properties are appraised at 100 percent of market value and assessed at 40 percent of that value.
If, during that audit, the state Department of Revenue determines that properties are selling for less than 38 percent of their assessed value or more than 42 percent above their assessed value, the government could be fined. Fines are levied at $5 per parcel, plus the difference between the current ratio revenue and the 40 percent required by state law.
Based on the 2001 countywide digest, Augusta's fine would be $458,887, the tax assessor's office reports.
Property owners will have 45 days to appeal their revaluation in writing from the date of notification. Appeals can be made based on three arguments: taxability, value or uniformity with surrounding values.
Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.