There was a dust up last week in Bibb County over a johnboat. Steven Thompson was upset because his $700 boat had been assessed at $7,550. On the surface, it looks as though someone at the assessors office needed an eye examination, but explore just below the surface and we find there is more to the story.
Bibb County doesn’t keep track of boats purchased. By law, purchasers are supposed to register their boats with the Department of Natural Resources. DNR then sends the notice to the county’s assessors office. However, DNR doesn’t send much of a description of the vessel. After receiving the DNR information, the assessors mail a marine personal property tax return to the owner. The owner submits the value of the boat or boats (this is important), what make of boat, and its Georgia registration number, signs and dates the form and returns it to the assessors office. The office then establishes value using an electronic ABOS Marine Blue Book. In the case of this particular Johnboat, the form was either never mailed, never received, forgotten or lost in the mail and wasn’t returned.
By law, the assessors have to put a minimum value on the boat. The state’s minimum threshold is $7,500. Anything worth less than that is not taxed. The office adds a $50 fee. No assessor lays eyes on the boat, nor does it matter whether the boat is used on a private pond or public waterway. It still needs to be registered with DNR and taxes paid.
Thompson was mailed the Marine Personal Property Tax Return for his johnboat in January 2011. He was mailed an assessment May 27 and had 45 days to appeal. He did not. He said he did not receive either mailing. Upon receiving his tax bill at the same address where the other notices were sent, Thompson went to the assessors office, and, said Bill Vaughn, chairman of the Board of Tax Assessors, the process was explained by an office worker.
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Not satisfied, Thompson asked to speak to the worker’s supervisor. The process was explained again by Desiree Murray, the head of the Personal Property Division. Still not satisfied, he left the office after telling the Murray that she could “kiss his a--.” Thompson admits to saying the phrase under his breath.
Andrea Crutchfield, the chief appraiser, upon meeting with Thompson, did say that if the county decided to refund his taxes for the johnboat, which as of Friday had not been paid, that she would reject it. What she probably didn’t say is, that by law, she cannot change the value after the 45 day appeal period.
Thompson was aware of the marine personal property tax return form he was supposed to have filled out for the johnboat, because he completed a similar form that he picked up from the assessors office in January 2010 for his larger boat. At that time, he should have also listed his johnboat and its value because he had owned the vessel since 2009. We can chalk that up to his thinking a boat used on private property didn’t need to be registered, and it might also explain why he didn’t register his larger boat, bought in 2007, until 2010.
The tax assessors office has been thrown under the bus by some members of the County Commission and by the public in general. Obviously, they are not aware of the process that’s dictated by state law and will have to reconsider their thoughts about government efficiency.
-- Charles E. Richardson, for the Editorial Board