Albany -- A Judge has allowed a class action civil lawsuit to go forward and it could eventually lead to a refund for Dougherty County property taxpayers.
The Board of Assessors had asked Judge John Crosby to dismiss the lawsuit, but instead the judge kept all 18 counts of the lawsuit and allowed it to go forward. Now the Board of Assessors say they may appeal.
The affect it could have on the tax digest could cost the county millions in refunds to property owners.
The Dougherty County Taxpayers Association calls it a win in the fight against the property reassessments that increased the tax digest by $357 million. Judge John Crosby has allowed their class action lawsuit against the Board of Assessors to go forward.
"So many of these cases are dismissed and that's what the county was trying to do was have the entire case dismissed so what Judge Crosby has said is that there's justice and merit to every one of our counts," says Dougherty County Taxpayers Association Co-Chairman Richard Thomas.
The Board of Assessors Attorney Spencer Lee said it's likely they'll appeal. They feel the lawsuit duplicates the reassessment appeals process that continues. The board need to hear another 15 appeals before the more than 100 cases will go to trial in Superior Court. In 60 days, Judge Loring Gray could look at the appeals that questions whether the process was done fairly.
"They're challenging the uniformity of the digest saying that it's sort of out of whack, their property is out of whack with other properties, and that it wasn't done properly," Lee said.
If Judge Gray finds that's true the entire reassessment could be thrown out, costing the county millions. "It would mean the 2006 digest would be the one that's in effect now rather than the 2007, we would have to give refunds on all of the 2007 tax bills that went out and we would have to give them based on the 2006 digest as well as the '08 digest in addition to that it would mean we'd have to go out and do another mass appraisal re-eval," Lee said.
The assessment could also be thrown out as a result of the class action lawsuit. Richard Thomas says their class action suit isn't the same as the appeals process and their suit covers additional mis-steps by the Board of Assessors. "Right now we're preparing for a jury trial with great pleasure."
Which case will come before a judge first, has yet to be decided, either way Attorney Spencer Lee says the outcome could be serious.
More than 5,400 appeals were filed by taxpayers after receiving their reassessments last year.