VOL. 114 | NO. 159 | Tuesday, August 15, 2000
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Assessor looks to technology in new term
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
With the re-election campaign behind her, Shelby County assessor Rita Clark is busy preparing for next years property reappraisal.
Although she never held the philosophy that holding onto her job was paramount, now that it is secure for another four years, shes ready for the challenge.
The task of valuating 315,000 parcels of property is no small feat, but because property taxes make up 50 percent of the county budget, it is a vitally important one.
For the last reappraisal in 1998, Clarks office delivered 100 percent of Shelby County property values to the state, and shes planning to repeat that performance next year.
One of the steps she will take to accomplish this goal to continue the offices conversion to a geographic information system.
The statewide conversion effort will assist in updating maps and other records and will integrate social, economic, physical and political data, making the information available with just a few keystrokes.
The GIS analyzes and displays property information in map and report forms.
The assessors office currently updates maps by hand on paper maps, which are then stored on Mylar film.
The office began working on the GIS in 1994, and the beauty of the system is when all data is compiled, it can be shared by other public agencies such as 911, the Memphis/Shelby County Office of Planning and Development, the county engineers office and the City of Memphis.
Other technology Clark will use to make property information more easily accessible is a Web site located at www.assessor.shelby.tn.us.
The Web site has had nearly 500,000 hits and Clark said she is considering posting property valuations for the upcoming reappraisal on the site.
Using the GIS and making information more accessible via the Web site are two ways she wants to streamline operations in the assessors office, which is charged with verifying county real estate sales transactions.
The verification process involves checking price anomalies among properties in the same neighborhood.
For example, if a property owner sold a $200,000 home to a relative for half that amount, the assessors office would disqualify that sale or would not include it in assessing the value of property in that neighborhood, she said. That is because the value of the property would still be $200,000 for tax purposes, she said.
"When we are not matching sales, the question is not How wrong are we, but Was that sale verified?"
Clark hopes the ongoing technological enhancements will encourage the public, especially senior citizens, to become more familiar with the appraisal process by using computers to access information.
Clark said after the last reappraisal in 1998, a disproportionate number of senior citizens called or came to her office regarding the increase in their property valuations.
"Senior citizens did not argue market value. They said, I cannot pay my taxes," Clark said.
This situation caused Clark to reaffirm her commitment to legislative change that would provide tax relief for seniors.
Although tax relief is available, the income cutoff for consideration is $11,360 per year.
She currently is supporting a proposal that would exempt income of less than $300 per month from sources such as Social Security and disability and retirement benefits, making it easier for seniors to qualify for tax relief.
Although a bill passed through the state house, it stalled in the senate, and Clark hopes the legislation will make it through this year.
"Seniors are being left behind, because they are on a fixed income," she said.
Clark would like to see the public get behind legislative efforts to help seniors.
"We need the AARP and other citizen groups to get together and go to Nashville," she said.
When older people lose their homes because of their inability to satisfy their tax indebtedness, although the state gets their property, it also assumes other fiduciary duties.
"The irony is, if they cant maintain their homes, the state steps in to take care of them," Clark said.