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Residents riled at high Jefferson Co. assessments

January 12, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Jefferson County residents upset about letters notifying them of dramatic increases in assessments for their property tax bills have been flooding county government offices with phone calls.

The letters from the Jefferson County Assessor's Office tell individual property owners what their current assessment is and to what level it will be increasing, said Teresa Hendricks, Jefferson County's tax deputy.

The assessor's office appraises homes to determine their value, said Wade Thompson, director of the property tax division of the West Virginia State Tax Department.

Property taxes are determined based on 60 percent of the assessed value, he said.

The value of homes in the rapidly growing Eastern Panhandle has been increasing over the years and that is what is driving the increase in property tax bills, Thompson said.

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Letters have been sent to Jefferson County residents in communities like Tuscawilla Hills and the Shepherdstown area notifying taxpayers of increases in assessments.

Although the letters do not say what a homeowner's tax bill will be, one Shepherdstown property owner estimates his tax bill will more than double from $830 to $1,830.

Tuscawilla Hills resident Herbert Withers said he was notified of a drastic increase in the assessment of his home last year when the assessment increased by $43,100.

Withers recently was told in one of the letters that his home assessment will be increasing by another $46,100.

Withers said although the letter does not say how much his annual tax bill will be, he said he expects it to rise from $1,734 to more than $2,000.

Withers called the increase "ridiculous," especially in light of the fact that home values have been decreasing due to the slowdown in home sales. Withers said he also is worried that people in his community might not be prepared for this.

"Some of these people will have trouble," Withers said.

Withers said he is going to ask for a review of his bill from the assessor's office to determine if there was a miscalculation. If he is not satisfied with the results, Withers said he is going to the Jefferson County Commission.

"I know most of the commissioners," Withers said.

Jean Moler, who also lives in Tuscawilla Hills, said she received a letter from the assessor's office, but she could not remember Wednesday what her new assessment was.

But Moler said the assessment has increased, and between higher taxes, higher road fees that are being considered for the Tuscawilla Hills community east of Charles Town and the rates doctors are charging, she has had enough.

"What can you do? How can you fight them?" she asked.

Hendricks referred in-depth questions about the increased assessments to Jefferson County Assessor Ginger Bordier, who was out of the office Thursday.

Busy signal

Repeated phone calls to the assessor's office was met with a busy signal Wednesday afternoon and a spokeswoman for the county commission said many people were calling the commission offices Wednesday saying they cannot get through to the assessor's office.

"We've had I don't know how many people calling and people coming in," Hendricks said. People are upset and "I can understand. Nobody likes having their property reassessed," Hendricks said.

Notices were posted around the assessor's office Wednesday telling taxpayers that the county commission will meet as a board of review and equalization starting next month to review assessments.

The commission will first meet as the board of equalization and review in the Jefferson County Courthouse on Feb. 1 at 2:30 p.m. The commission will also meet as the body on Feb. 6, 8 and 13 and "thereafter until all the questions concerning assessments are heard," the notices say.

The Feb. 6, 8 and 13 meetings will begin at 1:30 p.m.

Commission member Dale Manuel said there have been proposals in the Legislature to help protect taxpayers from big spikes in their tax bills. Under at least one of the proposals, large increases in tax bills would be spread over about a five-year period to give people a chance to deal with the increases, Manuel said.

"Those bills are down there," Manuel said.

Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said he was disappointed that Gov. Joe Manchin did not talk about any relief from escalating property taxes in his State of the State address in Charleston, W.Va. Tuesday night.

Commission member Greg Corliss said there is always talk about how growth is good for the county. "But this is a consequence," said Corliss, adding that increased taxes are often needed to help to pay for new schools and other services demanded by growth.




Tax appeals



Jefferson County residents can present arguments against their tax assessments to the Jefferson County Commission meeting as the board of equalization and review in the Jefferson County Courthouse on Feb. 1 at 2:30 p.m. The commission also will meet as the body on Feb. 6, 8 and 13 and "thereafter until all the questions concerning assessments are heard," the notices say. The Feb. 6, 8 and 13 meetings will begin at 1:30 p.m.

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