Doss offers legal opinions at Board of Assessors meeting

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – County Attorney Lynn Doss presented the Fannin County Board of Assessors with two opinions at the assessors’ May 4 meeting.

First, Doss stated, according to state law, recreational vehicles, pull-behind trailers or similar vehicles, which have a license plate, do not qualify as a permanent residence and therefore cannot receive a homestead exemption.

Citing clauses from the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) § 48-5-40, Doss’s opinion stated, “‘Homestead’ means the real property owned by and in possession of the applicant on January 1 of the taxable year … The term ‘homestead’ includes the following qualifications: the actual permanent place of residence of an individual who is the applicant and which constitutes the home of the family; (and) where the building is occupied primarily as a dwelling.”

“A mobile home is a building. A tent is a fabric covering, at least in my mind. An RV is a motor vehicle,” Doss presented in her opinion.

After Assessor Anthony Holloway asked Doss about the prospect of tiny homes qualifying for homesteads, the county attorney stated tiny homes would qualify if deemed a permanent residence.

Next, Doss addressed whether the Board of Assessors can legally decrease the value of a property once there has been a value assigned pursuant to an appeal.

According to Doss, O.C.G.A § 48-5-299 (c) would allow the board to decrease the valuation of a property “if market sales reveal that there has been a ‘substantial’ decrease in the current fair market value, then there is no prohibition against lowering the valuation.”

The board approved Doss’ opinions unanimously.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented a departmental budget review to address two overages in the maps and aerial line item and the capital outlay equipment line item.

The maps and aerial line item is budgeted for $24,000 for the 2018 fiscal year and currently stands at $30,524.41 as of April 16. Cochran explained this year’s aerial Picometry re-mapping project accounts for $22,524.11 of the line item while an $8,000 payment to Q Public accounts for the remaining balance. According to Cochran, the Board of Assessors department will receive reimbursement payments totaling $19,693.97 from other county departments, municipalities within the county, and businesses that signed an agreement last year to assist with the financing of the project in exchange for access to the updated maps. Taking the reimbursements into account, the department still has $12,169.86 in maps and aerials line item.

As for the capital outlay equipment line item, which was originally budgeted at $15,000 and currently stands at $40,000, Cochran stated the purchase of two fleet vehicles  for the assessors department at $20,000 each accounts for the overage. The Board of Commissioners approved the two expenditures at their Feb. 13 meeting.

Overall, the Board of Assessors budget for fiscal year 2018 is $848,265.00 and actual expenditures are $230,322.65 as of April 16.

Cochran also presented the assessors with a summary of the 2017 revaluation ratios. The overall fair market and land market median ratio is 0.3879. The state requires the median ratio to fall between 0.36 and 0.44. The coefficient of dispersion (COD) ratio this year is 0.1409. Cochran explained the COD measures uniformity within a classification or type of property, and the county ratio is in line with state requirements, which calls for this ratio to fall below 0.15. Also, the prime related differential (PRD) for the county is 1.0549, which Cochran said was also in line with state guidelines.

 

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Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Assessors approve state values for conservation use, forest land protection

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – At the Thursday, April 5, Fannin County Board of Assessors meeting, the board approved the state values for conservation use and forest land protection acreage.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran stated the state values for conservation use acreage ranged between $696 and $1,154 an acre and for forest land protection acreage ranged between $580 and $1,154 an acre.

Cochran also explained the values are set annually by the state, and acreage is subdivided into various classifications depending on soil productivity of crop or pasture lands for conservation use and of timber lands for forest land protection. After board member Anthony Holloway asked Cochran of the frequency of change in values, the chief appraiser stated the values do not increase in any given year more than 3 percent.

The state values were approved by the board unanimously with board members Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier and Holloway being present for the meeting and board members Mark Henson and Angelina Powell being absent.

For the second straight meeting, a number of appraisers presented land schedule adjustments for subdivisions that saw sales in 2017. During this portion of the meeting, Cochran explained that the department had been making efforts in the last few years to adjust water frontage appraisals based on sales.

“We started with the big bodies of water and now we’re coming down to the ones that obviously the sales influence (the land value),” Cochran stated.

At the meeting, several revaluations were approved for subdivisions along Fightingtown Creek, Hemptown Creek and the Toccoa River as well as other waterways.

Near the end of the meeting, Cochran presented the board members with three spiral-bound binders documenting the total number of revaluations throughout the county for the years 2015 through 2017. The binders each doubled in size from the previous year.

Fannin County Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented these binders documenting revaluations for the county for the past three years to the Board of Assessors at its April 5 meeting.

“Our county is busting at the seams with sales, compared to Gilmer County, and growth in the building permits,” Cochran explained of the visible differences between the years in terms of revaluations. “So, not only did (appraisers) reappraise the land, but they have to go out and measure those houses, those porches, those decks, those garages, all of that.

“The nice thing about this is that when these (appraisers) get ready to go to the BOE (Board of Equalization), they’ve got it right here. The tax payer can walk in and take a look at this and when they look and they see that they are being treated the same as their neighbor and these sales are what say it, they thank you and they go on. There’s very few people that go forward and just head-on challenge you when you have the defense.”

Cochran explained to the board that the work achieved during the last few BOA meetings is crucial in terms of completing an accurate tax digest for the county.

“(Appraisers) use to come in and say, ‘I found $3 million today’ (in unaccounted property),” Cochran said. “I don’t hear it a lot anymore. It’s coming in line.”

The next Fannin County Board of Assessors meeting is scheduled for May 3 at 2 p.m. in the Tax Assessors office of the courthouse. All meetings are open to the public.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Vehicle needs discussed at Fannin assessors meeting

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The condition of two fleet vehicles and the potential purchase of up to two vehicles for the Fannin County Board of Assessors were discussed at the Friday, Jan. 12, assessors meeting.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran told board members Friday that Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton had recently asked Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff to perform a thorough inspection of the vehicles in the tax assessors fleet. The inspections, as Cochran explained, were conducted using a points rating system, which takes into consideration the mileage of the vehicle along with issues related to the vehicle’s engine, chassis, transmission, brakes, steering and driveline.

According to Cochran, from those inspections, two vehicles out of the fleet of six received questionable ratings. A 2003 Chevrolet 1500 four-wheel drive truck with 193,384 miles was rated a 36 on a 99-point scale. Also, a 2004 Ford Explorer with 190,252 miles was rated a 43.

“Anything less than a 40 is something that really needs to be replaced,” Cochran stated to the board in a paraphrase of Ratcliff’s explanation of the ratings to her previously.

Explaining some of issues with the two vehicles, Cochran stated the Chevrolet truck was leaking motor oil and transmission fluid, and after the recent inspection, the rear end of the truck had “locked down” making it inoperable.  Cochran also said early estimates projected the cost to repair the truck to be around $1,000. As for the Ford Explorer, Cochran explained that inspections determined the sub-frame of this vehicle to be badly rusted, lending itself to potential safety hazards in the event of a side impact.

“That’s the county’s mechanic (performing the inspection), not the Board of Assessors,” Board member Troy Junnier pointed out. “The county mechanic telling you it’s unsafe – I wouldn’t let anyone drive it.”

Cochran assured Junnier that both vehicles have remained parked and out of use. She also told the board that in her talks with Chairman Helton, the chairman told her he wanted to receive reports of the inspections from Ratcliff and invited the Board of Assessors to present the department’s vehicle situation at the next Board of Commissioners meeting Jan. 23.

“(Helton) wants the Board of Assessors to get together before (Jan. 23) … and decide how we want to move forward,” Cochran said. “Then, he wants the Board of Assessors to present that (decision) ahead of time, in some sort of writing, for (the commissioners) to look at it, and then it will come up on the agenda on the 23rd.”

The board weighed repair options versus the purchase of two new vehicles or dependable used vehicles. Among the many ideas discussed was the potential purchase of two new hard-top four-wheel drive Jeep Wranglers. Board member Anthony Holloway also suggested the possibility of both presenting the commissioners with a request to purchase two vehicles while also repairing the Chevrolet truck and using the truck as a backup vehicle, if the safety of the truck could be assured. Throughout the discussion, Board of Assessors Chairman Lane Bishop urged the board to come to a definite agreement on the situation.

“Let’s not forget … we’ve still got these 10,000 parcels (to be appraised),”  Bishop said adamantly. “We’ve got to get that done.”

Ultimately, it was decided that Cochran would speak with Ratcliff about the possibility and cost of repairing the Chevrolet truck, study prices and options available for two new Jeep Wranglers as well as other new or used vehicles and report the findings back to the Board of Assessors in order to draft a presentation to offer to the Board of Commissioners ahead of the Jan. 23 meeting.

The board also adopted a locked gate/access denied policy for field appraisers. Last month, Cochran presented the board with a draft of the policy, and a decision was made to forward the policy to County Attorney Lynn Doss for review. At Friday’s meeting, Cochran explained Doss had reviewed the policy and made a few grammatical changes to the policy. Following this, the policy was officially adopted by the board.

The new policy has four primary steps. Upon first visit to a property, a door knocker complete with date, appraiser and reason for the visit will be placed at the gate of the parcel. A time-stamped photo of the knocker will also be taken and filed in the property account in the Board of Assessors system. After that, a phone call to the named owner of the property will be made, if possible. If no contact can be made at that point, a certified letter will be mailed to the property owner, as reflected in the Fannin County Tax Assessors’ records, again requesting access. Finally, if the department still does not receive a response, the assessors will utilize any information, such as aerial photography, building and/or septic permits and real estate ads and/or listings, to estimate a value for all structures on the property.

Cochran addressed the upcoming 2018 timber valuation with the board and stated that 12 letters would be sent to property owners with significant acreage containing timber with the potential to be cut and sold.

“Any (parcel) 20 acres or over that took place in a sale in 2017, the state says that if there’s marketable timber that (the tax assessors) need to take into consideration – timber is not valued until it is cut and sold – we back this value out,” Cochran explained. “If a 100-acre tract sold for $200,000 and our timber (evaluator) says there’s $5,000 worth of timber, we back it out (of the property assessment).”

Last year, as Cochran stated, the tax assessors office utilized Allen Baker, a registered forester with Allen Forest Management, to value such tracts of land at a cost of $20 an hour to the county, which came to a total cost of $2,000 for 100 hours of service. Cochran further stated Fannin County received the most accurate timber valuation in the state of Georgia last year after the county’s digest review from the state. The board approved the use of Baker again for 2018 at the same rate as last year and approved the list of letters to be sent to the 12 applicable property owners notifying them of the upcoming valuation.

The board also approved the state values for public utilities. According to Cochran, the state of Georgia sets the value of public utilities such as electric, gas and phone companies.

Cochran also presented the board with the 2018 tax digest schedule and discussed several important dates and deadlines for Fannin County tax payers.

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

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