Bradley County, Tenn., to review taxation of private roads

Bradley County, Tenn., to review taxation of private roads

April 10th, 2013 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Crystal Freiberg is the new Bradley County attorney.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Bradley County officials will review options for amending policies on taxation of private roads.

Earlier this week, Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg presented the Bradley County Commission with examples of how a mixture of a lack of property taxpayer awareness and tax assessor software limitations can spiral a $40 tax assessment into a $1,200 delinquent tax bill. Such issues have resulted in a substantial number of tax delinquency cases, she said.

"We need to figure out how to fix the ones that are already out there and then also how we want to proceed in the future," said Freiberg.

A private road typically is assigned a parcel number and assessed separately from the lots that adjoin and use the road, said Freiberg. In the case of a current subdivision development, the property tax on the road normally would be the responsibility of the developer. Afterward, tax payment for the road parcel will become the responsibility of the adjacent lot owners. For tax purposes it may be assigned to the lot owner who has lived there the longest.

If the tax payment on a private road becomes delinquent, it eventually finds its way to the county attorney's office. This will result in unpaid tax notices being sent to all adjoining property owners who have an interest in the road.

"For most of them ... they are probably going to tell you that's the first time they became aware that they even had an ownership interest in those roads," said Freiberg. "But at that point there's interest, taxes, attorney's fees and a whole lot of things that have accumulated on these roads."

In some cases, the county can put the road parcel up for auction. However, it is unlikely that anyone would bid on a private road and the county has little interest in taking possession of the road either, said Freiberg, especially since private roads built for subdivisions of six or fewer properties do not have to meet county road standards. Many such roads are only gravel.

Beyond paying taxes for a private road, adjoining owners also are responsible for maintaining it. A "best-case scenario" where the owners agree on how to divide tax payment and maintenance rarely -- if ever -- happens, said Freiberg.

Commissioner Adam Lowe said he saw four possible options that should be discussed, including educating the public, making all private roads public, tax-exempting private roads and adjusting tax assessing software and procedures.

Lowe said he had trouble accepting the passing on the costs and headaches of in-house software or procedural problems to the public.

"All of a sudden, my software hiccup becomes your problem," said Lowe.

Next Monday, the commission plans to vote on a measure to delay processing delinquent tax cases resulting from private road assessments until the matter can be explored by the Delinquent Tax Committee.