Originally created 09/17/02

Time's up for property appeals



Federal Express employee Joe Collins hurried into the first-floor offices of the Richmond County tax assessor Monday afternoon, but he wasn't there to deliver a package. On his lunch break, Mr. Collins stopped by to make sure he was on file as having appealed the reassessed value of his home off Meadowbrook Drive.

He had already mailed a written appeal to the city office last week, but he wanted to double-check that his protest had been recorded as of Monday - the 45th and final day that area property owners could appeal the revalued worth of their homes.

"If I could sell it for that much, it would be OK," Mr. Collins said, explaining that the tax assessor's office increased his home's appraised worth by $9,000.

But he says his house was overvalued, making him one of thousands to file an assessment appeal in recent weeks.

When revaluation notices were mailed out early last month, more than 54,000 homeowners learned that their homes' values had increased since last year.

The assessment notices were the first since 1999 to reflect any kind of an increase. The higher the value of a home or piece of property, the higher the amount of taxes collected on it, and many property owners are looking at increases ranging from 3 percent to more than 35 percent.

Since sending out the notices, the tax assessor's office has received an average of 90 appeals a day, totaling about 2,500 by Monday afternoon.

"The number of appeals shows that, in my opinion, the value we put on (people's homes) was fair," Chief Appraiser Sonny Reece said.

Even though 2,500 might sound like a lot, the number is about 1,200 appeals shy of stopping the county from adopting a millage rate by next month: State law requires that local governments have no more than 5 percent of their properties, or 5 percent of their total tax digest, in a state of appeal before a millage rate - the rate of taxation on real estate - can be adopted by both a school board and city commission.

Richmond County has about 73,000 properties. As of Monday afternoon, less than 4 percent of assessments were under appeal, which means the assessor's office could have a proposed millage rate calculated by midweek, and public hearings to present the proposed rate can start being held by the end of the month.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, passed by the Legislature in 1999, prohibits local governments from increasing property taxes unless three public hearings are advertised and held to alert taxpayers to the proposed increases.

Both the Richmond County Board of Education and the Augusta Commission are scheduled to hold public hearings for proposed tax increases.

Commissioners have approved a citywide budget that includes a proposed 1.735-mill increase to fund rising law enforcement expenses.

The school board has approved a budget that increases the Operations and Management millage rate. Overall, school board taxes would be slightly lower this year compared with last year because a capital improvement bond has been paid off.

Commissioners and school board members likely will be asked to formally adopt millage rates the first full week in October.

A tentative schedule has property tax bills being mailed out by Oct. 25, with a payment deadline of Dec. 31.

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.