Nearly half of the Hamilton County Commission voiced support for waiving $772,764 in reappraisal costs owed by the county's 10 cities when municipal leaders packed the body's meeting Wednesday.
That dollar figure is half of the county assessor's costs in fiscal 2017 for performing work on the 2017 reappraisal, which occurs every four years in Hamilton County. Municipalities must pay half the property reappraisal costs, according to a state law passed in 1989.
The law also allows county commissions to waive the fee. Although Hamilton County has never asked its cities for the money before now, no formal agreement exists.
"It's taking a breath to look at the law that's been, in this county, ignored for almost three generations," Commissioner Tim Boyd said about his proposal to waive the cities' 2017 reappraisal billing.
Commissioners Randy Fairbanks, Joe Graham and Sabrena Smedley said they will vote in favor of the measure on Feb. 1. They also said they wanted a long-term solution instead of revisiting the issue in 2021, the next scheduled reappraisal billing year.
Commissioner Greg Martin asked whether the county should consider waiving any of the other fees it charges local cities for services rendered.
Municipal leaders described the unbudgeted expense, due June 30, as an unexpected and unfair burden. Some invoked the spectre of raising property taxes to pay for reappraisal costs.
"We were really taken aback when we heard about this proposed charge," Lookout Mountain Mayor Carol Mutter said. "It certainly was not in our budget. The only recourse we would have — particularly in Lookout, which is a small town that does not have substantial sales tax revenue — our only recourse would be to raise property taxes."
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he understands the cities fighting to prevent raising property taxes. He also asked city leaders to support the county if it needs to raise property taxes to meet its own major needs, including a new jail and three new schools.
"You don't want to raise taxes," Coppinger said. "We don't want to either."
Hamilton County Property Assessor Marty Haynes said he has little choice but to follow the law, and he only learned the assessor's office had been out of compliance with the 27-year-old law shortly after he took office in September.
"That's not the way you want to go into office, finding out you're not in compliance," Haynes said.
Tom Dillon, an appraisal specialist in Haynes' office, said the state assessment officials estimate half of the state's 95 counties share reappraisal costs with their cities. Fewer than a half dozen have formally waived reappraisal billing for their cities. The remaining counties are technically not in compliance, he said.
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.