December 9, 2012

Multiple property tax documents cause confusion

Rachel Brown

— Dalton resident Ted Harris said he’s confused and upset after he said he received three separate tax bills.

Harris produced a bill from October showing he owed $3,209.44, which he later appealed and got lowered to $3,094.74. Yet an estimated tax notice from the Whitfield County Board of Assessors office dated Nov. 7 — in response to an appeal he filed to an earlier estimated notice the assessors office sent back in June — has his tax bill at $3,038.19.

“At what point do they send me out the real bill?” said Harris.

Whitfield County Tax Commissioner Danny Sane said the office has done nothing wrong, but Harris isn’t the only one who was confused over the mailings. Some 200 to 300 people have contacted the office with questions about the estimated tax bills, he said, since state legislators passed a law a couple of years ago requiring assessors to notify property owners of their estimated taxes.

Sane said telling people the estimated value of their homes is a good idea, but putting a dollar amount on their estimated tax bill is not. The Nov. 7 estimate Harris received clearly states, “This is not a bill, do not send payment,” at the top of the page, but it uses the previous year’s net property tax rate to calculate an estimated bill. Since tax rates have changed since last year, so did the estimated bills.

“We’re not doing anything wrong, however, I will say that did create a lot of confusion over the fact they were made to put that dollar amount in,” Sane said.

Harris said he paid the highest of the three amounts back in October and was told he’s due a refund of about $114, but he said there was confusion when he dealt with the local tax and assessors offices and now he wonders if he’s actually owed more money than what the tax office says he’s owed. He also questions whether he received all the right paperwork.

Chief Appraiser Trammell Suddeth said the Whitfield County Board of Tax Assessors office deals with many property owners confused by the estimated bills. He said state law requires assessors offices to use last year’s tax rates in calculating estimates. In Harris’s case, he received the Nov. 7 estimate notice as the result of an appeal he filed in June. The notice came after local tax rates were changed but still used the old rates.

“We don’t have any control over that,” Suddeth said.

Sane said everything is correct, and most property owners have understood after some explaining. That confusion is something he said he hopes to avoid in the future.

“I assure you, I’m going to the governor’s office to try to get this changed in the coming year,” Sane said.