Property value appeals go forward for Bibb residents

In an effort to reduce the county’s value on her Lake Tobesofkee home to an amount she considers fair, Davene Bohannon already has been through several rounds of appeals.

Those have failed to satisfy Bohannon, who figures she’ll be one of the first Bibb County residents to move her fight to Superior Court.

Seven property owners already have launched Superior Court cases, said Chief Assessor Andrea Crutchfield. About five more have filed the paperwork but haven’t yet paid the $83 filing fee. Unlike in other years, when court appeals were almost exclusively filed by large businesses, most this year have been filed by homeowners.

Crutchfield said she has no way of knowing, but guesses about 200 to 300 people will take their property value appeals to court this year.

Lake Tobesofkee residents are the majority, but not all, of the 56 disgruntled Bibb County residents who gathered Tuesday night to talk about ways of fighting the higher assessments. Many of them have not yet had hearings with the Board of Equalization, which hears appeals.

Tom Stevens of Hamrick Road, one of the event’s organizers, said many of the members from his group live near the lake but can’t figure out how their properties were assessed.

“People are going to say, ‘Well, why don’t you rich folks just pay your taxes?’ Well, we’re not opposed to paying taxes, but we want to pay a fair amount,” Stevens said. “How can you take a lot from $66,000 to $175,000, and there’s still some comparable properties at $40,000?”

Stevens’ land swelled from an assessed value of $66,000 to $174,400. He said he can find comparable lots for $40,000. His land is valued higher than his $156,400 house, even though much of the land and nearly all of the lakefront is swampy and unusable, he said.

Bibb County land has not been successfully revalued since 2001. This year assessors changed how property was revalued.

Before, assessors figured in how much of the property touched a lake. Now, it’s a by-lot estimate based on actual sale prices, with lakefront lots valued at several times the value of landlocked lots.

Bohannon started with an assessed value that jumped from about $204,000 to about $350,000 this year. She talked with assessors, who cut the valuation to about $304,000. She then appealed to the Board of Equalization, digging into the numbers for her house, her neighborhood and much of Lake Tobesofkee. She found that a lakefront lot five times as large as hers has a nearly identical assessed value. Bohannon said she gave about a half-inch of paperwork to the Board of Equalization but doesn’t know if any of her research was ever looked at.

Two days after her hearing, she received a notice that her property value wasn’t being changed under the appeal. She looked over the paperwork and saw her valuation had actually increased $4,000 from the last time she’d looked, to about $308,000.

Her modest home has deteriorated and now has some foundation problems, she said.

She figures the house is really worth at most $268,000, the highest price a similar property has sold for. In other words, she said her appeals have brought her assessed value just halfway from where it was to where she thinks it should be.

She said she’ll appeal in Superior Court.

“There’s a lot of people out here who aren’t happy with the lake values,” she said. “The big picture is, lake values out here are all over the board. I can’t see any justification for it.”

Stevens said he was surprised by his valuation. He said he also was surprised when his group of people fighting appeals somehow swelled from about 10 to Tuesday’s 56. He doesn’t know how many will show up for a 7 p.m. meeting Nov. 10 at Claystone Park’s pavilion.

Meanwhile, other appeals processes continue.

Crutchfield said her office has now processed more than half of the appeals, some 9,500, with another 7,500 remaining. Assessors plan to finish their parts of the paperwork this year, but the appeals must then be sent on to the Board of Equalization. Crutchfield said the whole process might wrap up about March.