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Property tax protest, still no answer given

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By CONNIE ESHThe Wilson Post

When a local man protested his increased property tax bill this past spring he expected quick results, but he still has no answer.

Warren “Tom” Sisti said he felt the increase in the value of his property was unfair and unreasonable.

“It’s built on the electric easement, and on the setback, and it’s only two bedrooms,” Sisti said in an interview recently, describing his home. He explained that other homes in Saddlebrook subdivision where he lives are three bedrooms.

He also said he and his wife were not aware of the problems with the easement or the setback before they bought the home 2-1/2 years ago.

So far his efforts haven’t resulted in any reduction in the assessment of his house’s value.

Sisti was only one of  407 Wilson County taxpayers who protested in 2008 when they received increased tax bills after a Current Value Update (CVU) from the state assessor’s office raised the assessed value of Wilson County homes by 10 percent, said Wilson County Assessor of Property Jack Pratt.

When a property owner decides to protest their tax bill he or she often heads for the County Trustee’s Office, where they pay their taxes, but the trustee only collects the bills.

“Quite often we have to explain to people that we don’t set either the tax rate or the assessed value of their property,” said Wilson County Trustee Jim Major. “All we can do is send them downstairs to talk to Jack.”

Wilson County Commission sets the property tax rate, and the county assessor assesses the value based on state requirements.

When the taxpayer gets to the assessor's office in the basement of the County Courthouse, Pratt or one of his clerks goes over the tax card with the person to see if there are any errors.

Sometimes that can solve the problem. But the assessor’s office couldn’t solve Sisti’s problems so he filed an appeal with the County Board of Equalization, Pratt said.

And while the board did lower the assessment for 244 cases, or 59 percent of the 407 cases, it didn’t lower Sisti’s, so he appealed again to the state board, but it doesn’t meet until April of the year following the local board’s session, Pratt said.

Part of the problem, Pratt said, is that the CVU assessment does not reflect current real estate values.

“That change doesn’t reflect the current situation,” he said. “It is based on the three years before the change.”

So the CVU changes in assessed value made in early 2008 were based on property values in 2005, 2006 and the first half of 2007.

In a year when the state hasn’t raised the assessment across the board, like 2007, the board sees far few tax-paying protesters.

“In 2007, only 34 people protested their property valuation, and the board only made nine changes,” Pratt said.

But Pratt said he hopes the county can change the assessment process to better reflect new growth in the county.

Wilson County is presently on a six-year reassessment cycle which means the state can step in on the third year and do a CVU change, Pratt said.

Pratt wants to shift the county to a five-year cycle which would end the mid-term CVU changes.

It would also average the assessment figures over a long period, which in this case would have allowed them to include the more recent trend to lower real estate prices, since assessed values are based on appraised values.

Appraised value is the price a Realtor would put on a piece of property while assessed value is the amount on which taxes are paid, Pratt explained

For residential property, the assessed value is 25 percent of the appraised value.

Staff Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@wilsonpost.com.

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