Rader: So Your Tax Appraisal Came in High?

District 2 Commissioner Jeff Rader to his constituents about this year's property tax assessments.

By Jeff Rader

DeKalb County District 2 Commissioner

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.

Other Patch stories about property tax evaluations:

Roger Darby June 04, 2012 at 06:59 PM
With all due respect, the recent uproar over tax assesment has to do with the significant increase in the LAND value for houses in certain neighborhoods in Decatur. For example, my land value went from $48k for the last 5 plus years or so to over $110k this year, while my building value actually decreased. This would, to me at least, indicate a glitch or a computer error of some sort, and when I contacted my county appraiser, he admitted as such. The appraiser also suggested, as you have, that I go through the appeals process. What is frustrating to me is that if the county is responsible for the glitch/computer error, then why can't (and shouldn't) they rectify this without me having to go through the appeals process? It's this type of repeated bumbling bureacratic idiocy that makes a lot of the citizens in DeKalb frustrated and which is why we're seeing a lot of flight in tax revenue due to incorporation. Can't say I blame 'em.
Decatur Resident June 04, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Roger's comment is right on. On my street in District 2, every single lot, previously appraised at $119k, is now appraised at $308k, nearly a tripling of value in a single year. And the variation in building value adds to the absurdity. Our house has a building value of $259k, while a nearby house with double the square footage has a building value at just $47k! Perhaps that's part of why we're seeing both an uproar and an overall decline in the digest. You can be sure my neighbor is not going to appeal his assessment (nor should he), and thus DeKalb is in a lose-lose situation of its own making. It will be unable to defend the most absurd valuations in the BOE or Superior Court, and yet without an overall reassessment will not be able to fix the tremendous under-valuation on houses like my neighbor.
Decaturette June 05, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Re: "The General Assembly capped this inflationary appreciation for County taxes in 2006." Is this still true this year or is the reason for new assessments because that capping no longer applies? If still true, am I reading this right that, if my current assessment is higher than my 2006 assessment and I have not improved my property, then the assessment is not valid? That would account for a lot of the 54% of assessments that are coming in higher than last year (according to the unofficial Patch poll).
Oakhurst Resident June 05, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Roger is correct. Why has no explanation been offered for flipping land/building values? Was this an error or intentional?
Decatur Resident June 05, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Folks, yes, on some streets it is a flipping of land values with building values. However, on other streets not only has land value doubled or so, but also the building value has increased by $100-$150,000 without any basis. My total assessment is up 62%, split about evenly between land and buildilng increrases. Interestingly, however, a few blocks away the biggest house in the neighborhood (over 4,000 sq. ft) has a $0 value even tho its land is probably correctly valued. Lots of issues with the appraisal values! Not just one type of problem. With the obviously huge mistakes, appeals should be easily won....I hope. Decatur Resident
LadyDiff June 05, 2012 at 07:31 PM
I live in District 3/7 and saw our assessment drop by 40% (after a 15% drop last year). I agree with what Roger said, that the land and building values appear to be flipped. The one (completely inexplicable) pattern I've found is this: The smaller post-war ranches show "land value" at a whopping $4,800, 60s split-levels at $8,000, and the recently constructed craftsman style homes, $75,000. I don't understand why the so-called "land" value of homes with smaller lots than mine should be listed at a rate nearly 20 times my own. I understand that some foreclosures in my neighborhood likely drove our values down, and I am sure that some of my neighbors could really use this break. But I don't need it. I want to pay my taxes and encourage DPD to actually show up at my house when I call them, but Dekalb County seems to think their land and my home are worthless. Are there any other people in this situation? Is there anything to do about it? Should I just shut up and take the tax break?
Winnona Park Resident June 06, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Globally assess everyone each year using a real world home price average over the last several years . List this real evaluation in the public record for data integrity and if need be legislate tax increase protections for long tenured residents who have not made improvements or sold. Just don't make us look at ridiculous assesements. Anybody should be able to appeal a low or high evaluation and insist on correct county property data for anyone's home within a mile of their own home. That would be a self regulated system of data correction.
Decaturette June 06, 2012 at 06:41 AM
I would just take the tax break since the County does not seem concerned enough to fix this in a fair and systematic way. It would be different if they were showing a good faith effort. Instead the response seems to be that they are waiting for an accurate system next year and meanwhile the public has the burden of appealing, no guarantees.
Cheryl Miller June 12, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Perhaps it is because your newer home would be less likely a candidate for a tear-down by a builder, whereas an older home in a good location might be something a builder / investor would buy, making the land more "valuable" aka expensive for a purchase and acceptable for demolishing the structure. Sounds a bit harsh. I have an older home and love it because it is so well built. My land value should be based on its location and size, not on how desirable it might be to someone else for their own private agenda.
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