Calm down, Chicken Little; don’t fear reassessments

Posted 5/17/17

Bradley County commissioners have enough on their plates with which to deal — like orchestrating a balanced budget in the face of rising expenses linked to infrastructure, a growing school system …

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Calm down, Chicken Little; don’t fear reassessments

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Bradley County commissioners have enough on their plates with which to deal — like orchestrating a balanced budget in the face of rising expenses linked to infrastructure, a growing school system and government payroll — so the recent Chicken Little rumor mill of a feared tax increase came as an unnecessary distraction.

No, the sky is not falling; at least, not because of the property value reassessments coming out of the Assessor of Property’s office.

The issue took center stage in a recent session of the county governing body when commissioners attempted to dispel public myth that rising property assessments will lead to an increase in Bradley County’s property tax rate.

A few commissioners reported a wave of phone calls from constituents concerned about such a tax hike now that the assessor’s office has raised the value of their property.

Here’s the skinny: That’s not how it works.

By state law, government jurisdictions are not allowed to reap additional revenue from increased assessments. Subsequently, it means county tax rates are often lowered in order to keep existing property tax revenue about the same — unless, of course, governments had already planned to raise taxes in order to meet increased spending demand.

To date, the Bradley County Commission — now in the middle of its budget-development process for next fiscal year — has given no indication of a pending tax rate hike. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It simply means they’ll try to avoid it. And even if it does occur, it won’t be because of the increased assessments coming out of the assessor’s office.

But for now — as of the Commission’s session on May 2 — county leaders are working to dispel the growing rumors.

Commissioner Terry Caywood even quoted from an email from Assessor of Property Stanley Thompson about the reassessments: “The new certified tax rate will be adjusted to the point that the taxing jurisdictions will receive the same amount of property tax revenue as it did the previous year, prior to reappraisal.”

Seeking to give constituents some peace of mind, Caywood emphasized Thompson’s point — that, according to state statutes, jurisdictions cannot use the reappraisal to generate new revenue.

“There will be no new property taxes created by the reappraisal,” Caywood stressed. “People need to understand that is not the way you raise taxes, but when they get higher appraisals they think automatically that means higher taxes.”

Commissioner Milan Blake, who chairs the body’s Finance Committee, echoed Caywood’s reminder. He pointed out if commissioners should decide to raise the property tax rate, it would have to be done with a public hearing and an independently drawn resolution that has nothing to do with the Assessor of Property’s latest value assessments.

Commissioner Dan Rawls said he, too, has received feedback from constituents.

“I’ve been getting a barrage of phone calls about a huge property tax,” he said. “There was no property tax increase.”

In fact, a Bradley County tax rate for 2017-18 is not expected to be set until early July, and this will happen only after a final budget is approved. Over the past couple of weeks, the budget-development process has included face-to-face discussions between finance leaders and a handful of county departments requesting additional funds in their respective budgets for next fiscal year.

So, in the words of county commissioners earlier this month as assessment notices started showing up in mailboxes, “Don’t panic!”

A rise in assessments does not imply a corresponding hike in property taxes.

Truth is, the recent public outcry about a tax increase is not unique. It is a common pattern: When property reappraisals go up, so goes the attention span of property owners.

Communication is the greatest tool known to mankind. It is what differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

But, for it to be effective it must be used. Such is why county commissioners attempted to calm their constituency in the recent Courthouse gathering.

If there is a lesson to be learned in this latest brouhaha, it is this: Sometime prior to the next reassessment (in four years), it might be wise for the Assessor of Property’s office to issue a public reminder; that being: Most property values will be going up (assuming that they are), but rumors of an accompanying tax increase because of it should be dismissed.

Such scuttlebutt is as senseless as expectations of Chicken Little laying an egg. It is our understanding Chicken Little is a he.

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