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Posted: Thursday, April 3rd 2014 at 10:03pm

'Sticker shock' might await some Hall property owners

By Marc Eggers Staff
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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Steve Watson
GAINESVILLE – In about six weeks the Hall County Tax Commissioner’s Office will be sending out residential and personal property tax assessment notices. Roughly 2,600 property owners will smile as they notice lowered appraisals; an estimated 12,000, however, will say under their breath, “What is this about?”, as they notice elevated appraisals.

Hoping to answer that question (“What is this about?”) ahead of that May 16th mailing date is the goal of Hall County’s Chief Tax Appraiser, Steve Watson.

Watson and his staff hosted the first of two open meetings Thursday night at the North Hall Community Center to explain the “real estate equalization project”, something that has been underway since August, 2013.

The second open meeting will be held April 17 at the Mulberry Creek Community Center beginning at 6 P.M.

About thirty people showed up to hear Watson explain how the vast majority of property appraisals in the county have been static for the past several years due to two factors: state mandated moratoriums on increasing values and a severe lack of personnel to conduct a revaluation properly.

“Equalization is nothing new. We’re constantly analyzing and updating property values, however, this project has been extremely large and complex,” Watson said.

Now that the moratoriums have expired and the Tax Assessors Office has the help it needs, resolving the disparity between the appraised values of properties listed on Hall County records and the actual price for which those properties are selling will be resolved.

“Equalization is our main goal,” Watson told the audience, “which is the fair distribution, ultimately, of the tax burden.”

The biggest category of under-appraised property is lake front property. Watson showed numerous examples of lakefront property that sold at multiples of its appraised value.

Watson said his staff had been out looking at lakefront properties, taking over 9,000 digital photos from the water, hoping to better understand what his staff will need to consider in the equalization project.

In the process of doing that field/water work, his office discovered, “1820 boat docks that had not been on the tax digest. And we found another thousand boat docks that were different than what we had in our records.”

“Are boat docks taxable?” Watson asked rhetorically. “Yes they are!”

“All of those boat docks are going to be added to the appraisal record for 2014,” Watson said.

Watson reminded everyone that all properties in the county were subject to equalization, but the majority of those properties needing the greatest amount of upward adjustment would be lakefront properties.

And judging by the abundance of audience requests for Watson to clarify aspects of the boat dock policy, the audience was mainly lakefront property owners.

Watson knows that any increase in property taxes won’t be popular and expects the amount of appeals to rise proportionately. “Last year we had about 2700 appeals. This year I wouldn’t be surprised if that doubled.”

“Even though we (Hall County) only have got 6,800 lakefront properties, the response to that (appraisal increases), in many cases, folks are going to have some sticker shock.”

Mark Kirves of Gainesville owns several lakefront properties, and admitted that he learned things about tax equalization that he had never previously considered. “I think a lot of people are going to be surprised at their tax values and their new tax bills, but I think he (Watson) was pretty thorough in how he explained why he’s doing what he’s doing.”

Property owners have 45 days after receiving their assessments to file an appeal.

Associated Categories: Homepage, Business News, Local/State News

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