Art Bayless of east Cobb said he opened his tax assessment notice on April 20 to find that the value of a warehouse he owns had jumped by more than $450,000 in a year. But after successfully appealing the valuation, he was equally surprised Aug. 17 to get a bill for the property and learn he was being charged for the old, incorrect assessment.
That error meant that Cobb County was asking Bayless to pay $13,000 for property taxes he owns at a commercial site at 1111 Via Bayless in northeast Cobb, southeast of the intersection of Shallowford and Canton roads. He estimates that was $6,000 more than what he was supposed to pay.
Bayless said he was lucky that he is retired and had time to double-check the bill. In the past, he might have just handed it off to his secretary or his wife to pay.
“I could see where somebody might pay the bill if they were not paying attention, even if they had gone through the appeal process,” Bayless said.
Bayless appealed his assessment June 21 after he received a notice saying the warehouse had jumped in value to $1,075,800, up from $620,000 in 2011. Though he initially sought to lower it back to the original amount, he went before the Cobb Board of Equalization and agreed to settle for an assessment of $650,000 on July 17, partly because he is looking to sell the building. He said he received a letter from the board confirming the decision on July 19.
But when he got his bill from the Cobb Tax Commissioner’s office, Bayless found it was asking him to pay the same amount he would have paid with the $1 million assessment. He called the office and was told he would get a corrected bill on Sept. 15, a month before property taxes are due on Oct. 15.
Cobb Tax Commissioner Gail Downing said property owners who appeal an assessment should receive a notice in their tax bill, letting them know what to do if the assessment is still under appeal, if it is settled or if the appeal fails before the Board of Equalization and is now being appealed to Cobb Superior Court. They also receive the price they are required to pay if the property is still under appeal, which is based on 85 percent of the 2012 assessed value of the property.
This year, 7,001 notices were sent out to property owners who were appealing, out of a total of 255,625 bills, Downing said. People still appealing with the Board of Equalization, per state law, are told they must pay either the full amount of the initial assessment or the “appeal amount” of 85 percent of the initial assessment. Those who have settled appeals are advised that they will receive a new bill with a new due date.
But Bayless never got such a notice when he received his bill based on the assessment of more than $1 million.
Phil Hogsed, director and chief appraiser with the Cobb Board of Tax Assessors, said that is because state law doesn’t require the county to send notice of the appeal amount if the Board of Equalization has made a decision on the appeal before tax bills are mailed, as was the case with Bayless.
Hogsed said the bill was still based on the earlier assessment because the county closes its tax digest, the valuation of all real and personal property and registered vehicles in the county, on June 27, and doesn’t complete its tax calculation until the end of July. In between, the county doesn’t want to see changes to the figure.
“That is a very critical process,” Hogsed said. “You want to make sure the tax (calculation) matches the tax digest approved by the Board of Tax Assessors.”
Hogsed said problems with the system are rare, because nearly all appeals in June and July are for commercial properties, most of which have tax representatives who handle appeals for potentially dozens of clients.
“They’re used to the process,” Hogsed said of tax representatives. “They’re used to knowing they’ll get an adjusted bill.”
But now that he knows there are taxpayers who don’t know about adjusted bills, Hogsed said the county tax assessors and tax collectors offices will work with the computer department on fixing the issue.
“We look for ways to improve the system all the time,” he said. “This is something that will go on our list, and we will look for ways to solve the problem.”
Bayless said Hogsed’s explanation offers little consolation.
“He said exactly what my concern is,” Bayless said. “I spent many hours preparing my case, won the case, and a few weeks later I received the old bill without any explanation whatsoever. All it says is you better pay by Oct. 15 or there will be many charges incurred. And I’m still waiting for an amended bill.”