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High assessments cause Jefferson County tax appeals to double

March 02, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Jefferson County officials have heard about 60 property tax appeals in recent weeks, more than double the number of appeals typically heard in past years, officials said Wednesday.

Some county residents have complained this year about their tax bills more than doubling, and some county officials have shared their frustration.

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

The Jefferson County Commissioners, which began meeting as a board of equalization and review last month to hear tax appeals, heard about 50 to 60 appeals, Commissioner Rusty Morgan said Wednesday.

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In previous years, about 10 to 20 appeals would be heard, Morgan said.

Tax bill adjustments were made in a little more than half of the 50 to 60 appeals, Morgan said.

Commissioner Jim Surkamp said he thinks one problem that was identified in the appeals is that the value of homes was being determined too much through computerized calculations. Tax officials should have relied more on the sale of comparable properties to determine values, Surkamp said.

County officials examined how properties were appraised in the tax appeals.

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

Taxpayers tried to get relief from tax bills by identifying conditions of other properties near their homes that they believed affected their property values or by taking issue with how tax officials used sales of comparable properties to determine the value of homes.

In an appeal heard this week, the owner of about four low-income apartment buildings in the county said his increase in taxes would force him to impose huge rent increases on his tenants.

The commissioners agreed to reduce the assessment of the apartments after several days of testimony in the case.

Although Morgan said he thinks there are many problems in the county's tax system, Commissioner Dale Manuel said no process is flawless.

Manuel said determining the value of a home is complex because many factors come into play, such as whether the home has a well or public water, a septic tank or sewer service, or has features like a garage.

Manuel said he thinks the solution for tax relief lies in the Legislature.

Manuel said he supports legislation that would limit the amount a person's tax bill may increase from year to year.

Manuel said there are such proposals in the Legislature, but there has been little action on them.

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