Trying to make sense of my 27 percent tax assessment increase in this economy is perplexing to say the least. In my neighborhood we have 36 pieces of property ranging in size from 10 acres to just under 2 acres. Most of the homes have been in this neighborhood over 20 years. My property is 1.91 acres and my house is 25 years old. There are 27 properties that have houses on them. Of the 27 improved properties, only two saw a decrease in their assessment. One (my next-door neighbor) was reduced by 1 percent and another 3 percent. The other 25 improved properties showed increases in value from a low of 2.6 percent to a high of 41 percent. The median increase for my neighborhood is 10.5 percent.
According to the Zillow real estate site, property values in my ZIP code, 30224, have decreased by over 50 percent the last five years. Bear in mind that properties are evaluated every five years. If that is so, this is the fifth assessment of my property. What happened over the last five years to increase my property by 27 percent? Trying to figure out what, if any, market values the assessors used is next to impossible. On the one hand, my neighbor’s property decreased by 1 percent and the property on his other side increased 19.7 percent. What could they have possibly been figuring to have come up with these numbers?
So what is going on? Well, let’s see. Here is what Chief Appraiser Tim Whalen said to The Griffin Daily News: “After exemptions are applied, the tax digest for 2012, prior to appeals, is virtually unchanged from the 2011 tax digest. The increases and decreases balance out to produce an equalized digest for Spalding County.” There you have it. It was never about fair assessments. It was about maintaining the status quo. It was about self-preservation. If we were to have fair assessments, it would mean cuts, layoffs, furloughs, etc., throughout county government. A direct effect to the tax assessor’s office. The city commissioners might have to curtail installment of more doggie-do stations and golf cart signs. They would all have to abandon an airport project that the taxpayers neither want nor can afford. Our elected officials would not be able to commission yet another study on who knows what. Maybe, just maybe, our elected officials would do like we do. Stop spending money they don’t have.
Now having said all that, let’s take a look at some of the oddities in our tax assessment debacle. Last week a property listed to Chief Appraiser Whalen had decreased from $104,660 to $96,400. I made comments on this in My Two Cents and on the Griffin Journal website. Lo and behold, this week Mr. Whalen’s assessment has increased slightly from $104,660 to $104,941. What’s to be made of this sudden change? Did Mr. Whalen appeal his assessment as being too low? Are property assessments so whimsical they can be changed at the stroke of a pen? Inquiring minds would like to know. Elsewhere, City Commissioner and Airport Authority member Dick Morrow’s home dropped from $297,427 to $227,927. (Note: House is listed under wife’s name.) Commissioner Doug Hollberg’s home dropped from $183,100 to $149,012. What is interesting here is the homes on both sides of him increased. Commissioner Ryan McLemore’s home decreased from $197,828 to $183,793. A house next door increased over $64,000. Did I mention the smallest increase in my neighborhood was to an attorney employed by a Spalding County board? Now the thing here is I don’t necessarily believe these folks did their own assessment or were involved in their own assessment. In fact with the guy in my neighborhood I would find it hard to believe he would be involved in any impropriety. I, however, do not rule out a sort of taking care of our own mentality by the tax assessors. A simple defense would be an explanation of how they come up with their numbers. A scientific, mathematical formula anyone could look at and figure the value of their property. One lady I was in line with at the tax office said her property assessor was from Fayette County. If that’s true, I would find it hard to believe he knew much about our county.
Our county is going to have to face reality. Things are bad out there. People are out of work and out of homes. We don’t want to be taxed anymore. Commissioner Todd claimed the T-SPLOST lost because it was poorly written. I beg to differ. I believe everyone knew it was an additional 1 cent on everything we buy. It was going to fund an airport that the citizens never approved. It was going to fund more studies. It was going to fix a dangerous intersection in Orchard Hill at a price of $960,000. How much could two stop signs and a post hole digger cost? This problem could have already been addressed at a greater cost savings with competent leadership. Our government had led us to a point where we just have to say no until they demonstrate a more frugal approach with our tax monies.
THOMAS D. THURSTON JR.