Fighting for fair property values - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Fighting for fair property values

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By Karen Cohilas - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - A property tax watchdog group in Dougherty County says a bill passed by the Senate this week is a step in the right direction. State Bill 240 enables property owners to go directly into arbitration over property assessments rather than going through the regular lengthy government process.

Currently, property owners have to go through local assessment boards, and the process can take two or three months. So this fast track to resolution is welcomed news for the people involved in a Dougherty Tax Assessment dispute.

When a county wide reassessment was done in Dougherty County in 2007, hundreds of property owners appealed their values in what Taxpayer Association organizer Richard Thomas called a lengthy process.

He said, "Last year, we had hundreds of Albany taxpayers who were denied the right to appeal to arbitration. Which is part of our lawsuit." Thomas, along with the taxpayers association is suing the county because of several problems they have with the revaluation.

"The denial of this due process is at the heart of our lawsuit because the county essentially stood in the way of many of our citizens who wanted to appeal to arbitration and wanted their rights to due process under the code and when that's denied, it's a violation of our constitution."

That's why Thomas is happy about the passage of Senate Bill 240. He calls it progress. "It allows much more of a streamlined process to get to a final figure through arbitration, so that's the important part of it. It has modified the existing law."

Basically, the property owner and board of tax assessors will both be required to provide appraisals to the arbitrator, who must be a professional real estate appraiser. Whoever loses has to pay the fees for the opposite party.

While Thomas says it's a start, he wants to see much more done for taxpayers. "Where it comes to senior citizens, we would like to see the portion of the ad Valorem tax that goes to education, which is more than half, we'd like to see senior citizens get a break."

The Court of Appeals is expected to make a ruling on the lawsuit between the taxpayers association and the county in the coming weeks.

The taxpayers association is holding a free workshop on property tax appeals March 19th and March 26th.  Call 229-435-1456 to sign up or for more information.

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