How to Appeal Your Reassessment Notice

May 27, 2010

They’re at it again.

The DeKalb County Tax Assessors have sent out reassessment notices. Having received one this year, and having heard from many of my constituents who have received one, it appears that there is a common thread in this year’s crop of reassessments.

The common thread is that, if you filed a Form PT-50R Georgia Real Property Tax Return (click for an article that I previously wrote on how to file this form), the tax assessors included the amount that you provided on your Property Tax Return as the “previous year’s value” for the bygone 2009 tax year. Then, the assessors increased that amount to what had been your 2009 assessment amount, telling you that the old 2009 amount would be the “current year’s value” for the 2010 tax year.

Through a clever sleight of hand, the tax assessors are telling you that, even if you filed a Form PT-50R, your property assessment hasn’t been changed for the current tax year. This is absurd. It shows that the tax assessors never bothered to look into your assessment after you sent in your Property Tax Return.

There are two things you should know:

First, you are not alone. I have received scores of calls and e-mails from constituents who have been treated the same way by the tax assessors.

Second, you can fight back. You can appeal your reassessment notice, if you received one. To do so, you should write a letter that includes the parcel identification number for your home (which is found on the front of your notice of assessment change) and your name, property address, and daytime telephone number. You should enclose documents that show the sales prices or fair market value of comparable homes in and around your neighborhood.

You also will need to state in your letter whether you want your appeal to be heard by the Board of Equalization or by an arbitrator. Under Senate Bill 240 (click for information), which was bipartisan legislation sponsored in the State Senate by Senator Chip Rogers and in the House of Representatives by Representative Kevin Levitas, you have the right to choose binding arbitration.

The way this arbitration works is that you and the tax assessors will each have a chance to present evidence to support the value that each has assigned to your property. Based upon the evidence, the arbitrator will then choose which value is correct. In other words, the arbitrator will not “split the baby” between the values. He or she will choose your value or the tax assessors’ value on an either-or basis.

You should only choose arbitration if you have a high level of confidence in the value you have assigned to your property and sufficient evidence to prove that your value is closer to the actual value of your home than the value that the tax assessors have assigned to it. This is because the losing party will have to pay the arbitrator’s fees. If the tax assessors lose, the county pays for the arbitrator, but if you lose, the costs of arbitration become your responsibility.

Therefore, if you are less confident in the value that you believe is correct, you should choose to have your appeal heard by the Board of Equalization. The Board of Equalization process comes at no cost to the taxpayer, regardless of whether you prevail.

In addition, you should consider including language in your letter that says something like this:

“O.C.G.A. § 48-5B-1 provides that my property assessment may not be increased between the 2009 and 2010 tax years. I am filing this appeal because I received a notice of assessment change reflecting an assessment increase between the 2009 and 2010 tax years.”

As part of House Bill 233 (click for information), which was legislation that I helped to pass, your property assessment cannot be increased between the 2009 and 2010 tax years. Raising your assessment between 2009 and 2010 is exactly what the recent notices sent out by the tax assessors appear to do.

The assessors likely will argue that the language on the notice after the asterisk “based on taxpayer return” means that the tax assessors never really accepted the value that you wrote on your Form PT-50R as the actual value of your property for 2009. However, if you read your reassessment notice closely, the actual language printed on the notice appears to have a different meaning than this.

If you plan to appeal your reassessment notice, please make sure that your appeal letter is hand-delivered, or is mailed and postmarked, no later than June 7, 2010 to the following address:

DeKalb County Board of Tax Assessors
120 West Trinity Place, Room 208
Decatur, GA 30030

If you have further questions, you can call the DeKalb County Property Appraisal Department at (404) 371-2471 or (404) 371-0841 or visit their website at www.co.dekalb.ga.us/propappr.


Governor Signs Jacobs Bills into Law

May 27, 2010

Today Governor Perdue signed three of the bills that I pushed during this year’s legislative session: SB 250, which contains my anti-bullying amendment; HB 1345, Georgia’s new Kosher statute; and HB 451, Revised Article 7 of the Uniform Commercial Code, which deals with electronic documents of title in warehouse and shipping transactions. Click the links for more information about each bill.

Sometime soon, I plan to write at greater length about the anti-bullying bill and the Kosher bill. In the meantime, here are excerpts from press releases about these two significant pieces of legislation:

Agudath Israel of America on the Kosher Bill:

Agudath Israel of America commended Governor Sonny Perdue and the Georgia General Assembly upon the signing into law of the Georgia Kosher Food Consumer Protection Act on Thursday.

The bill had garnered unanimous support in both the House and Senate last month, “a testament,” says Agudath Israel Ohio Regional Director Rabbi A. D. Motzen, “to the personal effort of the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Mike Jacobs,” who worked with Orthodox Jewish community leaders in Georgia to promote the legislation. Representative Jacobs, Rabbi Motzen notes, “was involved in every aspect of the bill’s drafting – and redrafting – and garnered the necessary support for the bill’s passage.”

The revised Georgia statute will amend the existing kosher labeling law, enacted in 1980, in a manner that is patterned after the “public disclosure” models adopted in Maryland, New York, and New Jersey.

Public disclosure requires stores selling unpackaged food represented as kosher to inform the public as to the identity of the kosher certifier and other relevant information regarding the standards adhered to when making such a claim. Among other things, the bill also transfers oversight of the kosher law from the Georgia Department of Agriculture to the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs.

Though no court in Georgia deemed the state’s kosher law unconstitutional, a challenge was filed by local Conservative Rabbi Shalom Lewis and the American Civil Liberties Union. In response to the lawsuit, a bill was originally introduced in the House to repeal the kosher labeling law, but that measure was not brought to the floor for a vote.

“Had the current law simply been repealed, consumers would have likely faced an increase in kosher fraud,” says Rabbi Reuven Stein, director of supervision at the Atlanta Kashruth Commission. “Any store could have advertised its products as kosher without any requirement to substantiate their claim. House Bill 1345 does not replace the need for a reliable kosher supervisor or agency, but it will give consumers information about the kosher standards being used so they can make informed decisions.”

HB 1345 was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group including State Representatives Kevin Levitas, Joe Wilkinson, Wendell Willard, Michele Henson and Fran Millar. The bill was shepherded through the Senate by Senator Don Balfour. Testimony in favor of the bill was offered by Rabbi Yechezkel Freundlich of Congregation Beth Jacob, University of Georgia law professor Hillel Levin, and David Schoen, Esq.

Rabbi Ilan Feldman, of Congregation Beth Jacob and Dean of the Atlanta Kashruth Commission, had warm words of praise for Agudath Israel’s efforts. “Rabbi Motzen visited Atlanta several times,” Rabbi Feldman said, “and spent dozens of hours working on this legislation from his Cincinnati office. He used Agudath Israel’s national legal network to bring together the necessary experts and kept everyone focused on producing the best legislation possible under the circumstances.”

Governor Perdue on the Anti-Bullying Bill:

Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that he has signed Senate Bill 250, which strengthens Georgia’s anti-bullying laws. The law requires parental notification for students involved in a bullying incident and directs the state Department of Education to develop a model anti-bullying policy that can be used by local school systems. . . .

“Bullying has no place in our schools,” said Governor Perdue. “This legislation will help local systems address incidents of student intimidation and ensure that parents know when their child is involved in a bullying incident.”

The Governor was joined at the bill signing by the family of Jaheem Herrera [of DeKalb County] who committed suicide after being taunted by classmates.

Anti-Defamation League on the Anti-Bullying Bill:

Governor Sonny Perdue has signed into law an ADL-backed bill that provides Georgia schools with new tools for cracking down on bullying, including provisions that target the growing menace of cyber bullying.

S.B. 250 expands on previous state law, which covered just physical violence, to include “Any intentional written, verbal or physical act which a reasonable person would perceive as being intended to threaten, harass or intimidate.” The bill was sponsored by Republican State Representative Mike Jacobs, but also attracted broad-based bipartisan support. . . .

Voting on the bill took place at about the same time that the suicide of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Massachusetts girl who had apparently been relentlessly bullied made national headlines.

Here in Georgia, many legislators said their concerns about school bullying came into sharper focus after seeing reports last year that 11-year-old boy Jaheem Herrera, a student at DeKalb County’s Dunaire Elementary School killed himself because, his mother said, he had been the victim of repeated bullying at school.

The new Georgia law establishes guidelines for dealing with repeat offenders and calls on the state Department of Education to develop a model policy on bullying that will give schools additional support for dealing with the problem. Individual schools will be required to update their own bullying policies to comply with the law’s new scope.


Brookhaven Bolt on Saturday

May 13, 2010

The third annual “Brookhaven Bolt” 5K walk, run, and stroll to benefit Ashford Park Elementary is this Saturday, May 15. Please visit www.BrookhavenBolt.com for more information.

The race starts at 8:00 a.m. Afterwards, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the Brookhaven Community Connection, a non-profit business group, will host its first Brookhaven Bazaar at Village Place Brookhaven on Dresden Drive. This day-long bric-à-brac market will be set up on the top level of Village Place Brookhaven’s parking deck and will feature antiques, art, estate items, jewelry, Persian rugs, and more.

Editor’s Note: A portion of this post was prepared by the Brookhaven Community Connection and Village Place Brookhaven.


Property Tax Limits Will Benefit Homeowners

May 13, 2010

The 2010 session of the Georgia General Assembly — the longest in recent memory due to an unprecedented budget shortfall — has finally been gaveled to a close. Like every year, this year’s legislative session had its ups and downs. Unlike some years, however, this year there is a bumper crop of substantive accomplishments to show for the efforts of your state legislators.

Over the course of the next two or three months, I will be bringing you up to speed on what was accomplished during this year’s session. I’m going to start with one of my favorite topics: property tax reductions and reforms. Homeowners won some important new rights that will take effect next year and will receive a state property tax cut in future years. DeKalb County homeowners fared even better, getting an extension of the five-year homestead assessment freeze that was enacted four years ago.

First and foremost, recall that the assessed value of your home remains frozen throughout the 2010 tax year as a result of last year’s House Bill 233 (click for information). This two-year property assessment freeze was passed on a party-line vote. It applies to both the board of education (approximately three-quarters of your tax bill) and county government (approximately one-quarter of your tax bill) components of your property taxes. It will remain in effect until the end of 2010 and was intended to keep residential property assessments from increasing at a time that the real estate market has been declining.

The DeKalb County Government’s portion of your property tax bill also is frozen by the local assessment freeze that was enacted four years ago and expires at the end of the 2011 tax year. Senate Bill 544 (click for information), sponsored in the Senate by Senator Dan Weber and in the House by Representative Fran Millar, is legislation that I helped to pass this year. It will extend the county assessment freeze through the end of the 2016 tax year, provided that you vote in favor of it on the ballot this November. There will be a referendum that requires your support.

Whenever I mention an assessment “freeze,” I always receive questions as to whether the assessed value of your home is “frozen” if it declines. The answer is no. The “freezes” discussed above only serve as a ceiling on the assessed value of your home, not a floor.

The General Assembly also passed a taxpayer-friendly comprehensive revision of the laws governing property assessments and appeals, changing a host of absurd procedures that have been very frustrating for homeowners. Sponsored by Senator Chip Rogers, Senate Bill 346 (click for information) requires that every homeowner receive a notice of their property assessment every year and be given the right to appeal their assessment every year, as opposed to only having the right to appeal when your assessment is increased. The notice of your assessment must show an estimated amount of property taxes that you would owe based upon the assessed value of your property.

Under SB 346, the new annual appeal period will be expanded from 30 to 45 days. If the tax assessors don’t respond within 45 days of your filing an appeal, you automatically win.

In addition, distress sales and foreclosures will be taken into account when determining fair market value. The sale price of a recently sold home will be required to be the fair market value for the next tax year. Furthermore, the tax assessors will be required to give you all of the information that has been used in determining the fair market value of your home.

Last but not least, the one-quarter mill’s worth of property taxes that is charged by the state government is being phased out. It will be completely repealed as of the 2016 tax year.


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