High reappraisals surprise many area property owners

High reappraisals surprise many area property owners

June 24th, 2009 by Ben Benton and Randall Higgins in News

Despite more foreclosures and sluggish home sales, property owners in Bradley, Rhea, Loudon, Van Buren and Hamilton counties are seeing the assessed values of their houses increase.

Twenty of Tennessee's 95 counties are undergoing reappraisals this year, and some property owners are seeing values increase 30 percent or more as upscale developments sprout from farmland or along lakefronts in more rural counties such as Rhea.

Bob Cecil, who lives in Spring City, said his property value has gone up by nearly 79 percent.

"If I could sell my property for what they value it, I could live very well somewhere else," said Mr. Cecil, who has appealed his appraisal. "They've been in the habit of increasing property values automatically for 20 or 30 years. They totally ignore the economy."

But Rhea Property Assessor Julene Purser said the reappraisals are based on 2008 land sales, when values held steady even though the number of sales decreased.

"We're getting a lot of appeals because the lakefront properties did go up quite a bit and the farm properties went up," said Ms. Purser, who noted the last reappraisal was five years ago.

Some Rhea property owners have organized a town hall meeting Thursday in the main courtroom at the Rhea County Courthouse. State Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and officials from the state Property Tax Division and state Board of Equalization are expected to attend.

National media coverage of harder-hit areas of the country had many people expecting a decrease in their appraisals, tax officials say. However, some Tennessee counties didn't experience as severe a downturn as other parts of the country, officials say, and the inconsistency confuses property owners.

Reappraised counties must adjust their property tax rate -- based on the state-issued certified tax rate -- to remain revenue neutral, so if property values go up, tax rates must go down. County commissions must vote to adopt the new tax rate.

Among the five counties in Southeast Tennessee that were in line for reappraisals this year, no county legislative bodies have adopted the new certified tax rates, State Director of Property Assessments David Sherrill said last week.

State Board of Equalization Director Kelsie Jones said property owners still are filing their appeals at the county level. Property owners have 45 days to file appeals after notification from the county.

"We haven't begun to get anything in yet from those counties," Mr. Jones said. "All the county boards will be filing reports with us in the next few weeks so we'll getting some data in the couple of weeks."

Rhea County Executive Billy Ray Patton expects the county's current rate -- $2 per $100 of assessed value -- to drop to around $1.60 to reflect the increases in appraised values.

Like Rhea, Bradley County has not set a property tax rate based on reassessments, but there was still plenty of response to the reappraisals, Property Assessor Stanley Thompson said.

"We mailed out 46,000 reassessment change notices and we had about 2,500 inquiries," he said.

"After you hear about it -- oh, I don't know ... 1,500 times -- you start doubting yourself," he added with a tired laugh.

Hamilton County officials said they likely won't have their certified tax rate available until about August. The County Commission adopted a continuation budget while officials wait for reappraisal appeals to wrap up.

In Loudon County, Property Assessor Chuck Jenkins said reappraisals stunned most people.

"Our countywide (average) increase was about 22 percent," a figure that prompted an "unusual" number of questions at his office, he said.

Officials at the Van Buren County Property Assessor office said the state has certified its new property tax rate at $1.43, but the County Commission has not yet adopted it.

Van Buren County resident Shawn Romano warns property owners to start asking questions early.

Ms. Romano, who lives near Fall Creek Falls, is in the middle of a property value snarl caused not only to reappraisal but to a complicated series of use-reclassifications that combined to boost her property value 37 percent over the last three years.

She said she understands the need to adjust values, but "to go up 37 percent overall in a matter of three years is just insane."