County Commissioners Are Required To Out Themselves On Increasing Taxes

Friday, June 16, 2017
If the county assessor has determined your property is more valuable than  it was four years ago (and County Commissioners vote to keep the millage rate the same), tax bills totaling a collective increase of $24 million will be delivered to mailboxes this fall. The millage rate is the amount used to determine how much tax will be paid after the rate is multiplied against the total assessed value of property. Those who personally write checks to pay tax bills will notice the increase when the bill arrives in October.
For those with mortgages, the tax bill will go to the mortgage company. Most homeowners with  mortgages will likely see their monthly mortgage payments increase in January to reflect the tax increase. 

This is a tax assessment re-evaluation year. It comes around every four years in Hamilton County. There must be a reason to determine a property value  increase. New construction on an empty lot is one legitimate reason for a tax increase. Adding a room to your house is another logical reason. While new construction has occurred in the county, new building owners will not be supplying the vast amount of taxes required to pony up a projected additional $24 million in tax revenues. 

Not everyone will pay a fair tax share of a $24 million increase. Recall that the County Commissioners have granted millions of dollars in property tax exemptions (PILOTs) to many commercial property owners that either built new buildings or improved old ones. Therefore, any additional new tax monies must come from other residential and commercial taxpayers. Bottom line: Many taxpayers who made no improvements to their properties, but received increased assessments, will be forced to pay more in property taxes to provide the the balance for an additional $24 million. 

Recently there was a Commission debate about what constitutes a tax increase. Commissioner Fairbanks was ethically and legally correct to balk at playing deceptive tax word games with the public. Let's be clear.  If an employer pays a salaried person more this year than they paid the same person last year, it is called a pay increase. If you own the same property as you owned last year, but are required to pay more in taxes than you did last year, it is a tax increase. 

Raising property assessments while claiming to leave the tax rate unchanged, is a classic example of how to create a stealthy "tax revenue windfall." Tax reappraisals are not supposed to result in stealthy "tax windfalls." To preserve the differences between doing legitimate assessment reappraisals and the legislative function of increasing taxes, more public transparency is required. 

If Commissioners want money to rain from the sky, they must accept responsibility for raising taxes even if they leave the millage rate the same. Commissioners who try to argue otherwise are deluding both themselves and the public. 

The state requires local transparency.  The Commission must first publicly out itself before they do the deed of approving a tax windfall in the same year of a property re-assessment. If anyone doubts this, they should contact the State Comptroller of Treasury, Justin P. WIlson, for clarification. Here is a quote from the State Comptroller's website, for those who don't know or just don't plan to follow state rules for public transparency in taxation. 

"In a reappraisal year, if the local governing body intends to adopt a tax rate that would generate more revenue than the previous year, a public hearing must be advertised and held." 

Deborah Scott


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