Thursday, January 29, 2009

BOS: Augusta taxpayer revolt ... part 2

16 members of the community speak up....

See Part 1

Sixteen Augusta County residents addressed the Board of Supervisors at Wednesday night's meeting. All were upset with their high real estate assessments and all wanted something done about it.

Resident # 1 (Shutterlee Mill Road - either Pastures or North River District):
The gentleman said he had been a 28-year resident in his home. One parcel of land he described as unbuildable was up 100% in value. He suggested supervisors throw out the 2009 assessments and keep the prior one. He suggested homeowners had to budget so why not the county.

[Applause from audience]

Resident # 2 (Shutterlee Mill Road - either Pastures or North River District):
He bought his house six months ago for $21,000 less than its value. Home values have continued to decrease, he said, so how could assessments be up? In an economy that is the worst we've seen since the Great Depression, he suggested taxes be frozen for a year to see where the economy goes. The market, he said, is going down.

[Applause from audience]

Resident # 3 (Beverley Manor District):
This older gentleman suggested this was the most ridiculous assessment he had ever seen. His land increased from $3,500 an acre to $6,500 an acre for land that cannot sustain a septic system. He declared there was nothing fair about this assessment and that it was stupid.

[Applause from audience; reprimanded by Chairman Howdyshell to hold the applause]

Resident # 4 (Pastures District):
This gentleman's home had increased 45% in a neighborhood where four houses have stood vacant for over a year, two of them for 18 months. Houses, he declared, are not selling. Retired from the state, he said he's on a fixed income while assessments are up, taxes are up, and sacrifices are being made by many who cannot afford it. He declared the "land use" program as not fair, feeling all property owners should pay their fair share. The community is not happy. He commended Supervisor Pyles for proposing to keep assessments what they are.

Resident # 5 (South River District):
Declaring that he was 85 years old, the gentleman said his assessment was up 55% which he called outrageous, not fair, and he wants the supervisors to do something about it.

Resident # 6:
This gentleman felt assessments should be rolled back to the 2004 assessments because property values are falling and home cannot be sold for what they have been assessed. People are upset, he said, and elected officials should take that into consideration.

Resident # 7 (Pastures District):
This lady owns a small farm. The land went up 135%. One parcel increased from $4,600 to $10,000, and another parcel increased from $3,100 to $7,500. Her feelings were that supervisors should throw out the assessments and use the one from 2004.

Resident # 8:
Retired and "living his dream," the gentleman said he's not sure he can afford his dream anymore. His property increased from $144,000 to $296,000. Supervisors, he said, must provide relief for the people.

Resident # 9 (Beverley Manor District):
Irate at supervisors, the gentleman said he had 10 acres that wouldn't perk so he couldn't build on it and, yet, the assessment rose 45%. He appealed to the Board of Assessors in 2004 and one of them said it was "fools like us" who come in and buy the land so it makes it more valuable. The equity in his home, he said, was going down but assessments were going up. This is not Wheel of Fortune ... how do they decide the process of reevaluating? Are they going to nullify or lower the rate? It's an outrage and he wanted to know the process.

Resident # 10 (South River District):
Another older gentleman, his property had been assessed an increase of 93% on one parcel and 97% on another -- land that is in a flood plain so cannot be built on. This South River resident who is a constituent of Supervisor David Beyeler suggested the board listen to Supervisor Pyles and postpone the rate hike.

Resident # 11 (Pastures District):
Acknowledging that he had the same story as many others, the gentleman said homes in his neighborhood had been standing awhile before selling, and compared the situation to the Tech Bubble of the past. We've missing the bubble, he said ... cannot sell for assessed rates. He respectfully asked that supervisors hold onto something that makes sense instead of scattered rates across the county. Uniformity would help.

Resident # 12:
Land values for this gentleman increased 200% on one parcel and 100% on another while the value of the property went down. He cannot build on the property, it is in a flood zone, and has no timber to harvest. Rates, too, need to go down, he said, It's a constant balancing act between what people make and what it costs to live. He questioned who hired the company that did the assessments and wondered if the county had to pay them. One of his neighbors' properties tripled in value. He concluded by wondering how much more it was going to cost him to live on his own land.

Resident # 13 (Riverheads District):
When he went to protest his assessment, he saw that the assessor who had been on his property was also on the assessment board, something he felt was not fair. His piece of vacant land went up 408% while another parcel went up 54%. He tried to call his Supervisor Nancy Sorrells but did not receive a return call. Supervisor Pyles, he said, was the only one with guts enough to stand up against this.

Resident # 14 (Wayne District):
Wondering if anyone had heard President Obama's speech that day, this older gentleman said the president had called for everyone to cut back. Everyone was cutting back, he said ... the federal government, the state government ... but the county was going on with business as usual. His little house had gone up 38%. Supervisor Pyles was the only one making sense on the Board of Supervisors because older people on fixed incomes could not handle the increases. If the BOS was not willing to sacrifice anything, he wanted to know why they expected people to be the only ones to sacrifice. We're in a crisis in this country and headed toward another Great Depression.

Resident # 15:
From the back of the room, he told the Board they had heard the people speak ... so now what were they going to do about it.

Resident # 16:
He also called out from the back of the room wanting supervisors to do something about the assessments.

Next: The supervisors respond.

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