A dispute with Bibb County over taxes owed on a johnboat has left Steve Thompson up a creek without a paddle.
Thompson’s boat, which he bought for $700 three years ago, is valued by the Macon-Bibb County tax assessors at $7,550 -- nearly 11 times the amount he paid for the boat when it was new.
“For $7,500, you can get a real nice boat,” said Thompson, who lives in Macon. “This one doesn’t even have a motor. It has a paddle.”
Thompson says he shouldn’t have to pay the roughly $100 tax assessed on the boat.
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But Chief Appraiser Andrea Crutchfield said Thompson never appealed the value she said was sent to him in May. Thompson said he doesn’t remember receiving it.
Crutchfield also said her office will be glad to review the boat’s value -- but that it’s not likely to be changed this year.
“We set the millage on (the tax digest),” she said. “That’s why we have the appeals process when we do.”
Changing the boat’s value now, after the tax digest is set, wouldn’t be fair to everyone else who can’t change their property values this late, she said.
The johnboat tax issue goes back several months.
In May, the tax assessors office sent assessment notices, but Thompson said he doesn’t remember getting one.
The notice -- sent to all Bibb County property owners -- alerts residents of their tax assessments. If people want to appeal their assessment, they must do so in a 45-day period that ended July 11, Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield said the letter to Thompson wasn’t returned to her office by the post office, and it was sent to the same address that Thompson has received all his other mail from her office.
Because Thompson didn’t appeal during the 45-day window, his only remaining option is to file an appeal with the Bibb County Commission, Crutchfield said.
“I know he’s not happy with his value (on the boat), but there are processes and procedures that must be followed,” she said. “At this point in time, we can’t go back and make an exception just for him. He can request a refund from the board of commissioners, and they can make an exemption. When the commissioners get that request, our recommendation will be to not change the value.”
Thompson said he registered the boat with the Department of Natural Resources in April. Previously, he only fished on his cousin’s private pond, but needed to register the boat to take it out on public waters. The tax assessors office gets its information from the DNR about which boats have been registered, which is how the office knows to send tax notices to boat owners.
Thompson also has a second boat for which he received a notice, but he doesn’t have any issues with that one.
Crutchfield said the DNR gives very little information about the boats in general, so her office assesses a value to the boats based on the estimated “blue book” value of the boat. Her office then sends out the notices, which allows boat owners to appeal that assessed value.
Crutchfield said the $7,550 value places the boat just above the $7,500 minimum value necessary to charge ad valorem tax.
When her office didn’t receive an appeal from Thompson, it kept the value intact and sent Thompson the tax bill for it. That, Thompson said, was when he first learned how much his 14-foot, motorless boat was valued by the county.
“I think they made an error,” he said. I don’t think they are trying to cheat me. They’re saying I didn’t put a value or appraisal, but I didn’t get (a letter).”
What irks Thompson most, he said, was a conversation he had with an official in the tax assessors office about the situation. He said the female office worker told him that even if Bibb County commissioners decided to give him a refund, she would reject it.
“The bottom line is they are not willing to cooperate with citizens,” he said. “What got me was that her attitude was very arrogant.”
Crutchfield said she isn’t aware of a complaint against the employee, but that the tax assessors office isn’t the office that issues refunds. That’s handled by the Bibb County Tax Commissioner’s Office.
She said Thompson would have to wait until January, when the tax returns are mailed out, to tell tax assessors office what the boat is really worth.
Crutchfield said the reason the appeal window was created is because her office must issue a tax digest. If a large group of people in Thompson’s situation appealed their property’s values after the digest was set, it would be chaotic and cause other problems.
“I understand his issue, but there has to be a process,” she said.
That leaves Thompson in the same boat he’s in -- disputing the $7,550 value of a boat he says is now worth about $500.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.