Hamilton County Property Assessor Marty Haynes wants to set the record straight about sharing reappraisal costs with the county's 10 cities.
A state law passed in 1989 requires municipalities to pay half the cost of property reappraisals within their boundaries, but Hamilton County has never charged its cities. The county assessor performs a property appraisal every four years for tax purposes. The next one occurs this year.
Haynes' cost-sharing plan would put Chattanooga on the hook for $557,152, due June 30. The county's nine other cities would owe a combined $215,522. All the cities have pushed back on the idea, citing unexpected and unreasonable costs. Their leaders claim it is unfair for their residents to essentially pay for property appraisals twice — once through their county property taxes and again through their city property taxes.
"I get frustrated," Haynes said about the claims of double taxation in a recent interview, noting city residents pay for other ambulance and other county services through their county and city property taxes.
Several cities also pay the county trustee to handle their property tax collections without complaint, Haynes said. According to the Hamilton County Trustee's website, the office performs this service for Collegedale, East Ridge, Lakesite, Red Bank, Ridgeside, Soddy-Daisy and Walden.
"My point is they pay a fee for tax collection, but they don't want to pay a fee to know the value of that property," Haynes said.
The cities also have opposed paying for appraisal work conducted in the three years between the reappraisal years.
Haynes explained his office appraises one-third of the county's properties every year until the reappraisal year, when it appraises all of them again. Every property gets reviewed at least twice during the four-year reappraisal cycle. According to Haynes' analysis, only 60 percent of the total reappraisal cost occurs in the fourth year.
For the 2021 reappraisal, this means Chattanooga will pay an estimated $110,697 annually for 2018, 2019 and 2020. For 2021, the amount goes to $500,681. Over the four-year cycle, that amounts to $832,773. The second-highest four-year total costs amount to $93,272 and $67,786 for East Ridge and Soddy-Daisy, respectively.
Haynes said he wanted to assure residents that their property tax bills will not be impacted by the cost-sharing plan. The only thing in question is how the Hamilton County and city governments will shoulder the cost of performing property appraisals going forward.
He has little choice in the matter, Haynes said. After taking office in September, he was told by the state comptroller's office that Hamilton County needed to get into compliance with state law, he said.
The law does allow the county commission to waive the fee if it makes agreements with the county's cities, and the city governments have campaigned for that solution.
The Small Cities Coalition of Hamilton County — which includes Collegedale, East Ridge, Lakesite, Lookout Mountain, Red Bank and Soddy- Daisy — has sent a letter to County Commission Chairman Chester Bankston stating its members believe an agreement to not charge the cities already exists.
"It is our view that this is a strong indication of an implied agreement by the cities and county," the letter said, citing the county's past history of not billing the cities for appraisals. "If an agreement needs to be codified, we will be glad to sign it."
Several county commissioners have said they cannot comment on the cost-sharing plan until they receive a formal presentation from Haynes, which they expect in the near future.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.