Annual Notices of Assessment hit homeowner's mailboxes last week, and many constituents have called expressing concern about substantial increases in their tax appraisal this year. The appraisal determines the value of property against which taxes are assessed, and are a key factor in your tax bill. I was surprised to hear this, as the DeKalb County real property tax digest overall is down by 7.8 percent overall this year. Our office is seeking more information from the assessor's office and will be responding to individual inquiries. We will also report back to the public on any patterns of reappraisal or systemic deficiencies we discover. Until we are able to get to the bottom of this, please keep the following in mind:
- If you feel your property is not accurately appraised, please appeal your assessment. Instructions are included on the back page of your assessment notice or on the internet at https://etax.dor.ga.gov.
- For personal assistance in appealing a tax appraisal, call Arthur Morrison at 404/371-2513 and Brian Jennings at 404/371-2808.
- You must appeal within 45 days to preserve your appeal rights, otherwise you lose the right to appeal until next year. My Notice of Assessment lists July 17, 2012 as the deadline.
- Appraisal procedures are structured by state law and the Georgia Department of Revenue and are supervised by the chief assessor. Chief Assessor Calvin Hicks is in turn appointed by the DeKalb County Board of Assessors (BOA), which supervises his work and reviews appraisals. The Board of Commissioners appoints the BOA, which must meet minimum qualifications and serve fixed terms. They cannot be prematurely removed without cause in order to protect the integrity of their decision-making process.
- Appeals of appraisal are reviewed by the BOA and can be further appealed to the Boards of Equalization (BOE), then to the Superior Court. The BOE are regular citizens appointed by the Grand Jury who receive training, operate with administrative support from the Clerk of Superior Court, and are not connected to the Board of Assessors. This structure is intended to minimize any undue influence by the BOA on the BOE, just as the BOA's separate structure is intended to minimize undue influence by the Board of Commissioners, which of course is directly interested in the tax revenues that appraisals ultimately control.
Over the past few years, the appraisal process has become much more volatile and controversial. As sales prices inflated during the real estate bubble, appraisals did likewise. The General Assembly capped this inflationary appreciation for County taxes in 2006. If you haven't moved, your assessed value should not have increased above the 2006 level, unless you have made new improvements to your home. In 2010, the General Assembly mandated that nearby foreclosures be included as "comparable sales" for the purpose of appraising property. Such sales had previously been excluded as comparables under the reasoning that they were "forced sales" and didn't accurately reflect market conditions. Appraisals in neighborhoods where foreclosures were widespread plummeted, and tax revenues followed suit. The affect of this change was a substantial shift of the tax burden from newer development where equity was low and foreclosure was high to older stable neighborhoods which (thankfully!) have not seen excessive foreclosure. Without foreclosures, the comparables didn't decline, and neither did appraisals. Many of you live in such neighborhoods and are bearing a higher proportion of the county's tax burden than before.
Property taxes are one of the oldest forms of taxation and are founded on the assumption that property owners have the ability to pay the assessed taxes or else they would not have incurred the obligation. Real estate inflation and foreclosure deflation have strained the system, creating an undue burden on some and a windfall for others. Governments that grew during the bubble have been challenged by the need to maintain basic services now that tax revenues have tanked. Stability has been lost for all stakeholders and will only return when tax valuations are stabilized by taking inflationary bubbles and deflationary foreclosure out of the appraisal process.