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Jefferson Co. residents appeal high assessments

February 07, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Jefferson County residents upset over skyrocketing property tax bills began making their appeals Tuesday, and county officials at times were as frustrated as the taxpayers.

County tax officials said a computer calculation they use to help determine property values relies on a simple formula and is fair, but Jefferson County Commissioner Rusty Morgan expressed concerns about how the process works.

Some county residents have been complaining about tax bills that have more than doubled and are asking if there is more in store.

"This is an intolerable situation for many of our citizens," said Morgan, adding that he plans to talk to state lawmakers about the problem.

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The commissioners began meeting as a board of equalization and review Tuesday morning to hear appeals from county residents about their taxes.

Commission President Frances Morgan told taxpayers several times that they needed to focus on offering evidence of errors in tax bills rather than commenting on myriad issues revolving around higher taxes. She did, however, refer to one tax bill as "shocking."

The Jefferson County assessor's office appraises homes to determine their value. Property taxes are determined based on 60 percent of the assessed value.

The value of homes in the rapidly growing Eastern Panhandle has increased and that is driving the increase in property tax bills, state tax officials have said.

'Valuable' cabin

Dale and Sharon Mueller of Hagerstown were one of a handful of taxpayers who presented appeals on their taxes Tuesday morning in the Jefferson County Courthouse.

The Muellers were taking exception to the $124,300 value that had been placed on an old cabin they own behind the former Trail's Chevron gas station along Flowing Springs Road on the edge of Shepherdstown, W.Va.

The cabin has no foundation, is along a grass and gravel lane where no services like snow removal are offered, and one has to pass what looks like a "junkyard" to reach the building, the Mueller's said.

"And a groundhog lives under it," Sharon Mueller said.

The commissioners focused on the value that had been placed on the land the cabin sits on.

Commissioner Rusty Morgan remarked about the size of the lot - less than a ninth of an acre - and the $107,900 value that had been attached to it.

"I've got a farm I'd like to sell," Morgan said.

Commissioner Jim Surkamp agreed with Dale Mueller's argument that the junkyard-like appearance around his cabin devaluates the building.

"I'm going to knock $20,000 off it," Surkamp said of the cabin's value. "You're right next to an old trailer park."

The commission voted to decrease the value of the cabin's land from $107,900 to $87,900.

Sharon Mueller declined to comment further about her tax bill outside the meeting.

More than double

Ray Axline was complaining about the tax bill on his Shepherdstown-area house that is increasing from $868 to $1,856.

Axline questioned why the tax bill on his Duncan Road home along the Potomac River had to rise so drastically, and he wondered if more of the same was coming.

"Is this what prosperity is doing for this county?" Axline asked.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson, who was representing the assessor's office in the appeal hearings, said the appeals are not the place to debate tax collection policy. Taxpayers were reminded that the purpose of the appeals was to present evidence about possible errors in their assessments.

The commission declined to offer any tax relief to Axline.

Robert Russin complained about how the county determined the value of his four-unit apartment building in the Charles Town area by comparing it to a historical home that was valued at about $750,000. Russin said comparing his building to the home was like comparing "apples with oranges."

The commission decided against any relief for Russin, but Corliss voted no.

"It's not fair," Corliss said.

County Assessor Ginger Bordier could not say Tuesday how many people filed appeals.




Public hearings



What: The Jefferson County Commission, meeting as the Board of Review and Equalization, has three remaining meetings to hear tax appeals from residents.

Where: Jefferson County Courthouse

When: Today, 10 a.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.; and Tuesday, 10 a.m.

For more information, contact the Jefferson County assessor's office at 304-728-3224.

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