VOL. 115 | NO. 152 | Thursday, August 9, 2001
2001 property appraisals brings new flood of appeals
2001 appraisals bring new wave of appeals
By MARY DANDO
The Daily News
Its deja vu all over again at the Shelby County Board of Equalization.
With the deadline for lodging appeals of this years property assessment passing July 31, the boards director David Newsom said judging by the stacks of boxes containing appeals, the number will exceed that of 1998.
"We dont have a clue (how many appeals there are), but I know about how many boxes we have. The only thing I can guess at, and this is a guess, is it will be in excess of the 98 appraisal year. I would say based on just looking at these boxes that we have more than in 98 and we had 30,000 plus then," he said.
The rush of appeals came at the last minute, and results from media publicity, he said.
"If you had asked me a month ago, I would have told you we wouldnt have got nearly as many, but when you put the deadlines in the paper that brings people out."
The bulk came from the elderly, who were as much appealing an increase in their property taxes as they were the reappraisal value of their homes, Newsom said.
"Were going to continue to get a large number of appeals in this county until there is some sort of significant legislation passed for tax relief for the elderly," he said.
"Its their taxes theyre concerned about. All they can see is their taxes going up."
Most of the elderly filing appeals have two factors in their lives affecting their ability to pay higher taxes, he said.
"Theyre on a fixed income and theyve got health problems. They have a high prescription drug expense each month."
"If the state had significant property tax relief for the elderly, Im convinced that it would knock out a lot of our appeals. Weve got tax relief but its not significant enough to do any good."
Shelby County Assessor Rita Clark echoes Newsoms sentiments about the elderly.
"One of the things I would like to emphasize is there is no viable senior citizen tax relief in the state of Tennessee. Thats who it hurts the most, the people on fixed income," she said.
Clarks job and that of her staff are prescribed by law. They cannot veer from it. The fact the elderly are suffering needs to be addressed through legislation, she said.
The income cap for property tax in Tennessee is $11,500 a year.
All is now quiet at the two locations of the assessors office. The burden has shifted to the board of equalization, she said.
"Things went much smoother. We had less informal reviews. We had 50,000 calls in 98 and we had 35,000 informal reviews in 98. This year, Im thinking we had about 25,000. We encourage people to file an appeal so they understand the process," she said.
"I think that means better informed citizens, we dont have a problem with appeals, we just gear up for it."
The county assessors office received a 100 percent rating with the state.
"We were able to get a ratio of 100 percent meaning sales to appraisal was at 100 percent," she said.
With an online site and the bulk of the cases being reviewed at the assessors East office, things went much smoother this reappraisal.
"We had a better system this time. We did not have a deluge. We were prepared because we did not have the appraisers tied up with the phones. People were able to get in the system and get their appeals filed and then we sent it up to the appraisers. Were in good shape," she said.
One area likely to elicit a large number of appeals is known as Area 4 in East Memphis.
Many of the houses in this area were built by the 1950s on large lots. As original residents die or move, developers have bulldozed the houses, replacing them with larger and more expensive ones.
In this "tear down" situation, Clark said the land is more valuable than the house. Many of original residents are elderly and cannot afford to pay higher property tax rates.
One such person is an 81-year-old who has lived on South Perkins Road, since she and her husband moved there in August 1955.
The woman said she had already filed an appeal because the value of her lot was tripled in this reappraisal. She said she did not understand why two homes north of hers had much bigger lots than she does and yet were appraised at a much lower rate.
"Its ridiculous. I dont know what they expect us retired people living on Social Security and a little bit of retirement money to live on," she said.
Her total appraisal was $317,800, with the land appraised at $218,800. She said the appraisal of $99,000 for the house was about right, but the land appraisal was way out of proportion. In the 2000 appraisal, the land was appraised at $74,400, she said.
Taking on the appeal process is not new to her. She has appealed before and took her case all the way to the state board of equalization.
"If you make over $12,000 a year they start taxing you. I couldnt pay insurance, taxes and the utility bill on this house at $12,000 a year. Its absolutely absurd," she said.
A new home on Colonial Road, which was appraised at $722,400, has earned publicity as an example of a huge hike in property appraisal.
In 1999, a 1,740-square-foot house at the same location sold for $225,000. The new, 4,991-square-foot home was built in its place in 2000.
When contacted, the homeowner said she didnt want to comment as the house had received enough publicity, and that there other large, new homes on Colonial.
The house next door, for example, is a 1,729-square-foot home, which has a total appraisal of $251,300.
Though the assessors office does perform the reappraisals, Clark pointed out the assessors office does not set the property tax rate for Shelby County.
"We dont set the tax rate. Thats what Id like for people to understand we have nothing to do with the tax rate. A reappraisal should roll the tax rate back if theres a formula. Then the county commission, the city council and all of the legislative bodies of Shelby County can increase the tax rate, as they have done," she said.
Tax rate concerns should not be addressed to the assessors office but to county commissioners or city council members, she said.
In contrast to the problems that followed the 1998 reappraisal, Clark is confident this years reappraisal was fair and equitable, and went more smoothly than before.
"This was our reappraisal and we knew that those properties had been picked up. We had a system that we went through systematically and reviewed all the properties in Shelby County and we had enough time to make sure we were comfortable with the values," she said.