A Tale Of 3 Properties

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Here in Lookout Valley on the far southwest edge of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, trees and rocks are plentiful but sidewalks are as rare as unicorns. It’s a land the governments forget – until tax collection time. 

The recent county reappraisal spoke about ‘comps,’ recent sale prices of comparable local properties. But the assessors defined ‘comparable’ to suit themselves, imagined deals that never happened, were inconsistent, and put purely arbitrary values on our homes. Fair market value played no part, it was all about maximum taxable valuation.  

Look at these three properties on my street – they affect every local home owner:  

Just east of me is a quarter-mile-square property – a rough tree-covered hill. County records say it’s 45+ acres, bought for $86,000 in 2003. The new appraisal is $182,000 – $4,000 per acre – which looks like the owner is taking a big hit. But his assessment isn’t one-fourth of the appraisal, like typical home owners. That idle land is assessed at only $9,025 total – $200 per acre. County taxes on it will be about $225 this fall. Five dollars an acre isn’t too bad, huh? We should all be so lucky! But the rest of us must pay extra to the county and city because of that owner’s good fortune. In fact, my tax increase is more than that $225 total bill. 

Just west of me is another empty property, long and skinny and irregular, 4+ acres even rougher than the first one. It was valued at $62,000 in 2009, before the occupants burned out the main house. The county and city confiscated it and tore down both decrepit buildings. The new appraisal is $38,700 for the land, about $9,000 per acre. But the government owns it now; nobody pays any taxes on it, and nobody takes care of it. It’s an overgrown wilderness. Again, the rest of us must pay more to the county and city to compensate for that. 

Then there’s me, stuck in the middle between those two idle, freeloading properties. My place is identical to the 4-acre wasteland mentioned above, but I mow my lawn. My back 3+ acres are inaccessible, rough and hilly, all rocks, trees, brambles, and poison ivy. The assessors overvalue my home by 25 percent. Then they claim my land is worth nearly $17,000 per acre although it’s identical to the county’s $9,000 acres just 200 yards away, and much rougher than those other $200 assessed acres east of me. Oh, I was given a benevolent 15 percent discount due to ‘topography’ – reduced to $14,300 per acre. 

The assessors hit me for a $38,000 increase this year–‘fair market value,’ they say, but the place isn’t for sale and nobody’s begging to buy it. In seven years I’ve managed to make the mortgage payments, maintain most of the house, and keep the yard clean, but I’m also expected to pick up the slack for every other idle property in the neighborhood, too. Three properties, 54 acres, and just one taxpayer – absolutely responsible to the county and the city, according to their own rules. 

This isn’t a unique situation. Every home owner can look around and find nearby land that’s sitting idle, waiting for a developer to make a killing on it, or hoarded by the government at public expense. Every property owner pays extra for those places. 

I’m 74 years old, living on Social Security and odd jobs. This exorbitant new appraisal has nothing to do with fair market value, it’s simply about increasing tax revenue, and it’s intolerable.  

It may be legal, but it’s not right. 

Larry Cloud
Chattanooga


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