Commissioners Hear from Board of Assessors

Published 8:11 am Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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The Sumter County Board of Commissioners met on April 17 th . Chairman of the Board of Assessors, Michael Coley, addressed the Board. “The Sumter County Tax Assessors Office is not required to determine taxation on public utilities, an entity that provides goods and services to the general public. Their assessment is done by the department of revenue and the department of audits, and the County. This assessment is determined by the sales ratio in the County. The major concern tonight is about the sales ratio that is affecting the County’s budget. Based on todays requirements, in order to be in compliance, the sales ratio should range from 36-44%, with the average being 40%. Once the DOR, the Department of Revenue, and Department of Accounting or Audits assess the County’s sales ratio the assessed value is given to the Counties and the Public Utilities for taxation. The Department of Revenue and the Department of Audits have Sumter County’s sales ratio proposed at 34.6%, which is lower than the minimum requirements and makes us out of compliance. Mr. Williams notified the Board of it’s impact on the County, we started aggressive research on ways to raise the values in order to minimize the future financial impact. He met with the Board of Assessors as well as made a proposal to the board of commissioners. He was met with opposition and resistance. He was asked to make a spreadsheet of sales to show where the discrepancy existed.”

He mentioned an example. “One fair market value property was appraised at $174,000, and it sold at $415,000, an increase of 140%.”

Coley mentioned that the County had not had a re-evaluation in years. “In years past, the Board of Assessors have utilized the 40% average because our sales ratio was closer to the 40% with no
major impact in the difference.” Coley continued. “Because our actions were met with questions by the Board of Commissioners, Mr. Williams contacted the Department of Revenue and the Department of Audits to ask clarity. Their comments were, with that wide a margin from the average, we would have a hard time defending an assessment of 40%. The public utilities have a right to file an appeal if they are assessed more than the proposed rate assigned to them by the Department of Revenue.”

Afterward Chief Tax Appraiser Christopher Williams addressed the Board. “This 34% number, I inherited this number.” He talked about how he became interim in August, then became the permanent tax appraiser on November 19 th of 2023. Williams contrasted the situation with a neighboring County that appealed. “Every year, they raised their cost table so that they could try and stay in compliance. And when their sales came in for that year, they adjusted their sales upward so that they could try and stay in compliance.”

He further detailed the decision. “Why would I appeal the sales ratio study, when nobody, absolutely nobody adjusted any sales at all, from 2017 all the way up to right now?” He pounded his fist on the lectern for emphasis.

Williams claimed that he asked the Board of Assessors to let him get the County into compliance. “Couldn’t get the votes. We’re gonna fail this ratio study, we’re gonna fail the next one, and we’re gonna fail the next one if we don’t do something.”

He mentioned partial support. “The Chairman and Dr. Seay urged the board to do something so that we could stay in compliance.”

GEMAS is an appraisal service slated to reappraise properties in the County. Williams stated they had tried to get a vote during a called meeting during which they contacted the project manager for GEMAS, Joe Wright. “The chairman told him what I planned to get us into compliance this year.” He stated his response. “He said that what you are doing will get us into compliance this year, but he said why do that if you are gonna stir up the taxpayers in 2024. . . then we have to come and stir them up again in 2026, why don’t you just let us do it?” He addressed the Department of Revenue’s proposed County Equalization Rate: “They proposed 40. Nobody has to take a vote, because there is no inflation.”

Williams stated that we are currently dealing with hyperinflation. Chair David Baldwin asked what his solution was. Williams replied. “The first thing I was going to do was raise the cost tables.” He stated a second action. “We were going to go out and inspect every sale in 2023 and I was gonna adjust the sales based on our inspection.”

Interim County Administrator Doug Eaves commented. “But that would only affect the properties that had been sold.”

Williams replied that the Department of Revenue would use the sale, and emphasized the importance of sales ratios. “The best way to have them pay at 40% is to make sure that we have a good sales ratio study.”

The Board tabled the discussion for the need for a performance review of the Board of Assessors.

Afterward Coley gave an interview. When asked why the Commissioners seem to be surprised by the 34% billing if it was inevitable, he responded. “I don’t know, because the information is sent to the Commissioners as well as the Board.”

When asked if there was communication between the Tax Assessors and the Board of Commissioners about expected revenue he replied. “We’re not a part of budgeting. Our office is strictly for asssessments.”