The Daily Journal: Recall, apologize Sandifer tells county


WALHALLA With an attorney general’s opinion in hand, State Rep. Bill Sandifer has called on Oconee County officials to issue recalls and make apologies for properties reassessed as a result of appeals made by neighbors. Emerald Pointe officials discovered that a computer malfunction resulted in value updates being omitted, something that apparently happened on less than one percent of the parcels assessed. In other cases new construction for which permits had not been obtained was discovered, Smith said.

In a hand-delivered letter to County Administrator Tom Hendricks and Assessor Leslie Smith on Thursday, Sandifer said that, based on his own knowledge of the law, he “didn’t believe that the Assessor’s Office had the right to ‘cherry pick’ properties and change the assessment which had already been provided if said property owner did not appeal.”

With a supporting attorney general’s opinion in hand Sandifer requested that the assessor immediately cease telling taxpayers who inquire about an appeal that their appeal could affect the assessment of their neighbors’ properties. He also asked that any second reassessment notices be recalled with a note of apology and an explanation that the second reassessment notice was done improperly.

Hendricks responded by saying the attorney general’s opinion provided had been forwarded to the State Dept. of Revenue (DOR) for further interpretation.

“We want to see if we are complying as they see it,” the administrator said.  “I know for a fact that we have not used an appeal as a punitive measure.”

Hendricks said recall notices would not be sent unless the DOR, which has been reviewing Oconee procedures at the request of the state delegation, deems the county has acted “arbitrarily or capriciously.”

As for apologies, Hendricks said any taxpayers treated with a “mean spirit” would receive a personal apology from him.

Sandifer said he sought clarification after receiving calls from people who had been told that if the basis of their appeal was the value of neighbors’ properties, the assessment for the neighbors’ properties could be increased.

He added that he understood that scenario to have been played out.

In public meetings at which reassessment was debated, Smith did comment that appeals based on equity generally resulted in property visits which, in turn, could lead appraisers to reassess neighboring property for a variety of reasons. In one case

In a letter to the DOR’s Malane Pike, Thursday, Smith said, “the interpretation of the law we are currently operating on is that reassessment is an unfinished product until taxes have been paid … and that new construction omitted from the tax roll can either be added for the current year if done so prior to the payment of the tax; or either the following year if not discovered in a timely manner.”

That interpretation appears to differ from the opinion written by Assistant Attorney General Cydney M. Milling, who Sandifer quotes as saying, “if an assessor desired to reassess property in light of information gathered during a taxpayer’s contest of the assessed value of his home, the assessor may not assess just neighboring homes. In accordance with your opinion, we believe the assessor must assess every other piece of real estate in the county.”

Sandifer’s letter is the latest in an on-going feud between members of the state delegation and the county over the issue of reassessment.  After the delegation asked for a DOR rreview, the county asked the delegation to seek reviews of all counties that underwent reassessment this year.  The delegation then sent a letter to all county taxpayers in which they chastised the County Council for preventing “the citizens of Oconee County from receiving the benefits of the action by the state legislature”.

At the end of his letter Thursday, Sandifer said, “I regret that the situation has deteriorated to such a level as to require my obtaining an Attorney General’s opinion in order to protect the rights of the citizens and taxpayers of Oconee County.  However, I trust that we can work togther to that end, in a spirit of cooperation”.