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Property reassessment draws fire

With a 12 percent property appraisal hike predicted as the average increase for 2005 in Knox County for approximately 172,000 pieces of property, property assessor John Whitehead came out West to answer questions while giving advice to those upset with their appraisal.

Whitehead spent about 45 minutes with the Council of West Knox County Homeowners, Inc. during its monthly meeting Tuesday, April 12, in the Cokesbury United Methodist Church Center.

One homeowner said he knew of a case where a three bedroom, two-car garage home’s appraisal went up $40,000 where a four bedroom, three-car garage home went up only $3,000.

If you paid a “high price” for your home relative to your neighbors with similar homes, “That means the ones that paid the most for their house is going to get by with not paying taxes on that high value,” Whitehead said. If you paid a “low price” for your home, “That means they’re not going to get by with that, either. It means they’re going to get brought up.”

Within a subdivision of similarly valued homes, for example, “We’ll use these fifty dwellings and see how many sales have been in there the past two or three years … then we’ll kick out the very high one, the very low one, and try to hit the middle,” Whitehead said about the appraisal process.

Whitehead said appraisal hearings for disgruntled property owners are a “very simple process, it’s easy. We’re not hard to get along with. … we haven’t had anybody to wait yet that has come in. They just go right back. I encourage people to come in if they think they’re value’s wrong. Most people don’t get mad if they’re treated fairly.”

But the tax assessor warned not to delay action. “If we find a mistake, we can only go back by state law eighteen months,” Whitehead said.

“The problem with people coming into our office is they’re never prepared to come in,” Whitehead said. “They come in and what they want to talk about is taxes. … What you need to look for is the houses that have sold in your area in the last two years. Make sure their comparable to your house. …”

Whitehead said that in order to find out what adjacent homes most recently sold for, “it takes a while. We don’t have it online or anything.”

Knox County Commissioner Craig Leuthold, District 5, who also works in the property assessor’s satellite office in Farragut Town Hall, said, “Know the exact address … that would make the search a lot easier.”

Whitehead estimated it would be June before the final reappraisal numbers are calculated. “Once we get those final numbers, if it turns out the county’s total tax base assessment has went up twelve percent … I think it’ll be close to that … then the tax rate, city and county, will go down about twelve percent. If that number turns out to be right, then twelve percent is going to be a break-even point,” he said. “If you’re appraisal went up twelve percent, then you’re going to break even. If it goes up more than twelve percent, then you’re going to pay more taxes. If you go down (below 12 percent), you’ll pay less.

“The total (revenue) the county gets in will equal the approximate total they got last year. That is in the state law, so they have to cut the tax rate back.

“Now, just to give you the whole story, there’s a little loophole. Counties and cities can raise the certified rate,” Whitehead said. “But in order to raise that rate, you have to have thirty days of public hearings. They have to put a notice in the paper that they intend to raise that rate. In the whole time I’ve been down there (since 1972), the City of Knoxville has done it one time, and the county of Knox has done it one time.

“But this year, both finance directors and both mayors have said they’re not going to ask for more money,” Whitehead added. “So, the certified rate should stand, assuming it brings in the same amount of money it brought in last year — that certified rate should stand this year. … Next year is an election year, they ain’t gonna raise ’em next year more than likely. So you’ve probably got two years without a tax increase.”

Leuthold added, “… You’ve got to remember, the last time Knox County has had a true property tax increase was back in (1999), so we’ve gone through six tax rates without an increase,” adding that the current rate of $2.96 has been the rate since 2001.

Whitehead said this year’s appraisals would be public record as of May 20.


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