Hart County Board of Commissioners

Peer Review Work Session

August 17th, 2004

5:30 p.m.


The Hart County Board of Commissioners met August 17th, 2004 at 5:30 p.m. in the Hart County Administrative & Emergency Services Center.


Chairman Daniel Reyen presided with Commissioners R C Oglesby, Randy Banister, Ricky Carter and Joey Dorsey in attendance.


Chairman Reyen called the meeting to order and announced the scheduled work session is to address issues defined in a Peer Review of the Board of Tax Assessorsí office. He remarked that there would be ample opportunity for public comment and individuals wishing to speak should state their name, limit comments to five minutes and stay on the topic of the issue at hand.


Chairman Reyen asked Tax Assessor Chairman Randy Combs how they are coming along with the peer review recommendations.


Chairman Combs had numbered the Peer Review recommendations and began with the BOA's peer review recommendation number one where the peer review recommends the BOA meet more than once a month. Chairman Combs stated that the BOA had proposed at the BOC meeting the BOA meetings be increased to twice a month. He further explained that the BOC tabled the BOA proposal.


Chairman Reyen remarked that the BOA has adequate funding in the current budget to meet twice a month.


Chairman Combs continued with the PRB recommendation number two: personal property with total fair market value of less than $7,500; and that the Tax Commissioner has refunded the taxes to the property owners that were taxed.


Commissioner Carter asked how many property owners were affected by this issue and what the cost was to fix this issue. Chief Appraiser Margaret Crossley responded they ran a report to determine who might be eligible for a refund and in turn contacted the Tax Commissioners' office. The Tax Commissioner had TBS (the countyís software support company) generated a report to issue the refunds.


Commissioner Banister asked if docks were taxed as personal property. Mr. Combs responded that this does not include docks and that issue would be addressed later.


Chairman Combs continued with that PRB recommendation number three. The Revenue Commissionerís review of the 2002 tax digest found a lack of uniformity for commercial and industrial property classes based on the sales ratio study by the State Auditor. Hart County must correct this for 2005 or be subject to a penalty of approximately $83,000. He stated that this has been corrected and that the 2003 tax digest was approved without any deficiencies. A continuous review will be made for 2004 and 2005 as specified by the PRB.


Chairman Reyen asked if the $10,000 item in the budget request for consultant fees request is related to this issue. Chairman Combs responded that a consultant, Mr. Farris, assists them in appraising commercial/industrial properties because he has needed expertise on commercial and industrial property that is not available from the staff in the BOA office.


Commissioner Carter asked what caused the lack of uniformity for commercial and industrial property. Ms. Crossley responded that a new auditor appraised six commercial/industrial properties and used properties that were not applicable for appraising. He used the same examples for appraising industrial as commercial and did not take into consideration that one particular piece used was a property that was abandoned. The auditor used the old Shell Station on 29N that has been closed down for a number of years. She also reported that the DOR did another review in 2003 and found no deficiencies.


Commissioner Carter asked how much time and money was spent on this issue. Ms. Crossley responded that they did not do anything to the properties in 2002 and there is a substantial increase in 2004.


Commissioner Carter asked if the funds are paid back to the property owner. Ms. Crossley responded that the funds have to be paid to the Department of Revenue if the deficiency is not corrected.


Chairman Combs continued with PRB recommendation number four: All covenants for conservation use should be carefully scrutinized by the BOA before approval. The BOA proposal stated that properties are reviewed for verification of their eligibility for conservation prior to approval by the BOA. The BOA abides by DOR rule 560-11-6 and O.C.G.A. 48-5-7.4. He said the state rules are a part of the BOA proposed policy statement.


Chairman Combs remarked that the current BOA has probably received blame for prior boardís decisions on the issue and the current BOA will continue to scrutinize the covenants requested.


Chairman Reyen asked if they have investigated the two properties that the peer review identified as properties with conservation covenants that should not have conservation covenants in the opinion of PRB. Ms. Crossley responded that they have identified the properties. She explained that the farm program is for ten years and can be for less than 10 acres in the farm program if a ledger is kept of activity. She explained that there is conservation for agricultural and timber land. She said the BOA has to review the covenants annually.


Chairman Reyen asked how many parcels are in the conservation programs. Ms. Crossley responded that there are between 900 and a 1000 properties. She explained that the Soil Conservation program is a 40% reduction and the Preferential Assessment is a 30% reduction.


Chairman Reyen asked if the 900 to 1000 covenants have been examined to make sure they qualify for the exemption. Ms. Crossley responded that the BOA reviews applications annually.


Commissioner Carter asked how many more are out there. Ms. Crossley responded that the Legislature has watered the law down in that an individual can have a three acre tract and a seven acre tract that can be added together and could qualify for the program.


Commissioner Carter asked how these covenants were granted when they should not have been. Ms. Crossley responded that they were approved by a previous board.


Howard Holt remarked that earlier Ms. Crossley said there would be a 30% reduction for conservation but has now stated that it would actually be 25%. Ms. Crossley explained the difference between the taxing process for the Soil Conservation and the Preferential Assessment.


Commissioner Banister asked if the BOA has completed a review of the covenants. Ms. Crossley responded that they have not this year but that the covenant is reviewed when it expires, prior to renewal.


Commissioner Banister asked Ms. Crossley if, in her opinion, there is a problem with the covenants. Ms. Crossley responded that sometimes there are changes i.e. an individual that has a covenant gives a child five acres for a home site can still remain in the conservation plan.


Commissioner Carter asked how the covenants are reviewed. Ms. Crossley responded that the BOA staff does on site visits.


Chairman Reyen asked if the requirements for conservation use was going to be in the BOA's policy. Chairman Combs responded that it is already in the policy and procedure manual.


Jay Earle, President of the H.C. Property Owners Association, reported that the BOA approved fifteen properties in five minutes at their regular meeting. Ms. Crossley responded that most of those were renewals and that the staff had reviewed them. She also reported that one conservation request was denied by the BOA.


Chairman Combs continued with PRB recommendation number five that it is not necessary for the BOA to meet individually with appellants to determine whether a change is needed or if the appeal should be forwarded directly to the Board of Equalization. He read their adopted Policy Statement #1.


Chairman Reyen stated that the appeals in 2003 were held and in bulk and then dumped on the BOE at one time and it put a heavy burden on BOE and the process. Chairman Combs responded that in the future appeals will go on to the BOE after the BOA reviews them. Ms. Crossley responded that the previous chair of the BOE requested that they hold the appeals.


Chairman Reyen asked if the upcoming appeals will be forwarded to the BOE sooner. Ms. Crossley responded that they try to hear all the appeals in a map and parcel order. She explained the time frame the BOE has once they receive the appeals.


Chairman Reyen asked why seven hundred were held at one time. Ms. Crossley responded that they were in the process of the re-assessment.


Chairman Reyen asked when the new policy was adopted. Chairman Combs responded the BOA adopted the new policy at their last meeting.


John Nagele stated that the new policy was a one way policy because it doesn't provide information to the taxpayer. Some people want to find out how their property is assessed and what rates, comparables and other variables were used in that assessment.


Chairman Combs remarked that they have a policy for the appeals process. Chairman Reyen responded that there is a need for more information to be provided to the taxpayer who has an appeal.


Jay Earle pointed out that they raised this issue two years ago and Attorney Gordon said that hearings before the BOA is optional for the appellant. He commended Mr. Combs for putting this in policy form.


BOA Don Burdick said this was the first time he has seen the policy. Chairman Combs responded that is was presented at the BOA August 12th meeting and that there were three members present who approved it unanimously.


Pete Nagele addressed what happened at the BOA August 12th meeting. He said Mr. Combs & Ms. Crossley presented a large amount of information. He said it was like a "dog and pony show" in that no one else saw the policy beforehand.


BOA Ann Thompson remarked that Ms. Crossley presented the policy and they reviewed the information August 12th, 2004. She said they are always bogged down by questions from the public that attends the meeting.


Chairman Reyen asked is what way the BOA is bogged down with questions from the public. Ms. Thompson responded that they have one half day per month to meet and discuss business and that questions from the public takes up a lot of that time. She added that the public has the right to attend the meetings.


Commissioner Carter asked if the BOA members read through the entire content of the PRB package being present to the BOC today. Ms. Thompson responded that they went through it item by item. Commissioner Carter remarked that it was a lot of information to review at one time and that it shouldn't be a quick decision.


Jay Earle said individuals that attend the BOA meetings speak when the Chairman allows for public comment. At their last meeting public comment took up only six minutes of the meeting.


Dr. Manning said the law library was available for the BOA meeting however, it was implied that the BOA was not going to move their meeting to another location.


Chairman Combs continued with PRB recommendation number six, that some small acreage tracts (4-10 acres) adjoining lake Hartwell are undervalued.Mr. Combs explained the appraisal process and recommended that studies will be made to determine value.


Commissioner Carter asked how much it would cost to perform such as study. Ms. Crossley responded that they will do the 2005 revaluation in house and they anticipate hiring additional office staff once the budget has been approved to assist in the process. They will also hire Mr. Farris to assist them with the industrial and commercial properties.


John Nagele said that the BOA recommendations sound like a "lot of arm waving" and donít address the real issues. He said BOA recommendations do not address the inequitable valuation of similar properties and lack of uniformity in valuing residential property.


Chairman Combs stated that the DOR has reviewed the BOA's proposal and in their opinion it will satisfy all the issues in the Peer Review.


Ms. Crossley remarked that lake property is not assessed the same as farmland and that a lot of factors are involved in the process such as the characteristics of the property, location, market etc.


Chairman Reyen remarked that what Ms. Crossley said was true about the characteristics of a lot. However, the question is what is the break point between small acreage and a lot. Ms. Crossley responded that they have to look at each parcel individually.


Ms. Crossley reported that they are transferring deeds now and will complete that process in January or February and will do a sales analysis. The values will be presented to the BOA for approval.


Commissioner Banister remarked that how Ms. Crossley described the appraisal process the BOA office will have the documentation on how they arrive at the appraised value. Ms. Crossley explained that they look at the deeds and the PT61 forms, they analyze the deeds and data to see what is going on.


Commissioner Banister remarked that it looks as if the valuation translates down to some type of formula used to calculate the value. Ms. Crossley stated that condition factors change and they look at everything involved with the property.


Commissioner Banister asked what the cut off is for small acreage vs. a lot. Ms. Crossley responded that there so many characterists involved. Commissioner Banister asked if they would have the supporting documentation on how the made the differentiation. Ms. Crossley responded that they would. She also remarked that they start with the property.


Chairman Reyen remarked asked when the studies will be made and when will the information will be available for the BOC to review. Ms. Crossley responded that the information could be available June, July, August once they complete all the data entry and sales analysis.


Chairman Reyen asked if the BOC will have the information. Ms. Crossley responded that the information by then.


Pete Nagele remarked that the BOC started out looking for transparency, the Property Tax Association has been looking for guidelines. He said what you have just heard today from the BOA is a lot of "smoke" trying to block the idea of getting guidelines. Taxpayers don't have the ability to understand how the small acreage factors are determined. He said he met with Ms. Crossley and asked what the small acreage factor was and she responded that it was four acres. He explained that his property is located near another larger piece of property and that a target value was set because of that factor. He said you can't get truth and credibility in the process. He said they are looking for clear guidelines.


Mr. Nagele also reported that the former chairman of the BOA has 2.21 acres on the lake and he received the small acreage charge and that shouldn't be tolerated.


BOA member Don Burdick remarked that what Mr. Banister alluded to is to have a process set forth. Various factors impact the appraisal of property. He said the BOA needs to have the process set in writing. He said there is concern about farm property, small acreage breakpoint; rural acreage which is not farmland, subdivisions and lake property. He appealed to the BOA members that they work toward a transparent process.


Commissioner Carter entertained a motion to have a short recess. Chairman Reyen provided a second to the motion. The motion carried 5-0.


After a short recess the meeting convened.


Commissioner Carter asked what would determine a small acreage tract breakdown. Chairman Combs responded that the appraiser makes the determination.


Ms. Crossley remarked that farmland is different than lake property and they look at the market, lot size, charactertists of the property, the Health Department standards and the county ordinances for what the property can be used for.


Commissioner Carter asked if she could set a guideline of the breakpoint for lake property. Ms. Crossley responded that the people set the breakpoint by the market value paid for property.


Chairman Reyen asked what the breakpoint is. Ms. Crossley responded that 2003 it was 4.99 acres or less.


Chairman Reyen asked when the numbers will be available for 2004. Ms. Crossley responded that she is completing the 2004 digest and will have the information by the end of September.


Chairman Combs continued with PRB number seven. He said they will hold in house training sessions to train appraisal staff to be consistent with data collection. They will also attend DOR continuing education classes.


Chairman Reyen asked if the DOR courses cover data collection. Ms. Crossley responded that each course goes over collecting data.


Chairman Reyen asked if they have anyone scheduled for the upcoming classes. Ms. Crossley responded that the classes start in November and they will schedule individuals to attend the classes.


Commissioner Carter remarked that a training plan should be included in the budget request each year.


Chairman Combs continued with PRB number eight. Property owners have a legal recourse to challenge the valuation of their property as established by State law. The BOA wholeheartedly endorses the recommendation.


Commissioner Carter asked if Combs could translate into dollars and cents how much a property owner would save if they disputed the valuation. Chairman Combs responded that it would depend on the property value and it would vary from property to property.


Commissioner Carter asked if it would be feasible for an individual to hire an attorney to continue the appeal.


Chairman Combs gave an example of someone getting a speeding ticket and by the time the individual takes off work, hires an attorney and pays $75 for the ticket he has lost money.


Jay Earle remarked that there is $200 - $400 at stake and that most people get worn down by the BOA, BOE and don't proceed to court. He said that is why they formed the Hart County Property Tax Association. As a group they felt like they could put the pressure on to get the system fixed so there wouldn't be all these appeals.


Commissioner Carter asked how much it would cost the taxpayers for a case to go to court and an individual get a refund of $100.


John Thompson remarked that if an individual spends $200 going to court and get the taxes lowered then over the years that individual gains.


BOA Kenny Carter stated that contrary to what some people think, they don't lower the taxes. In some cases if an individual brings in the correct information needed to dispute their value they have lowered the value.


Tom Warren asked how much money is in the BOA's budget for legal fees. Chairman Reyen responded that they are projected to spend $31,265 in 2004 for legal fees.


County Attorney Walter Gordon remarked that a government can never anticipate how much litigation is going to occur in the course of a year. He said it is hard to say how much legal fees will be per case since each case could be different.


Commissioner Carter asked if there is a system set up to hear the appeal again to double check everything. Attorney Gordon responded that is one of the reasons the BOA held hearings prior to the appeal going to the BOE. He said the BOA is mandated by law to review appeals and some matters could have been resolved at the BOA level. He said you don't typically have 50 to 60 appeals, however, in 1990 there was 1500 appeals filed; 600 or 700 went to BOE; 12 or 15 went to Superior Court. Part of the problem is the method the State uses for the taxation of property.


Commissioner Carter asked Mr. Earle where he got the $200 - $400 figure. Mr. Earle responded that is the average.


Chairman Combs reported that in the last re-evaluation 1,406 appeals went to the BOA, 449 went to the BOE and 62 to Superior Court.


Commissioner Oglesby entertained a motion to adjourn the meeting. Commissioner Carter provided a second to the motion.


Chairman Reyen announced that the work session will be continued August 24th, 2004 at 5:30 p.m. He commended Mr. Combs for his presentation of the recommendations of the BOA.


The vote carried 5-0.



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Daniel W. Reyen, Chairman††††††††††††††††††††††† Lawana Kahn, County Clerk