Thursday, February 12, 2009

Augusta BOS meeting: Standing room only ... assessments front and center

Wednesday night saw an overflow crowd of more than 1,000 Augusta County residents turn out for the Board of Supervisors meeting, most of them attending to protest their high real estate assessments.

Unfortunately, in a move that may have been prearranged, the Board limited speakers from addressing the supervisors, perhaps preventing two hours of discussion reminiscent of the BOS meeting held two weeks earlier.

Seven residents had signed up to speak. Usually, after going through the pre-filled-out forms, the BOS chairman will ask if anyone else would like to speak.

Not at this meeting. No one else was offered the opportunity to speak but, instead, all those attending who were concerned about assessments were asked to stand. Almost 100% of the room stood up. They were thanked and told that would be considered their remarks on the issue.

And then the meeting immediately moved on ... to issues such as passing a proclamation to declare this the Big Read Month ... to give $13,000 to parks and recreation ... how to get local funds from the pork "stimulus" bill passed in D.C. The crowd was given no opportunity to react but pockets of upset citizens broke out in conversation in corners of the room.

Usually, "matters to be presented by the public" and "matters to be presented by the Board" are back-to-back. Not last night.

"Matters to be presented by the Board" was moved to the end of the agenda. Was that a ploy hoping county residents would leave after being silenced from speaking and not stay to hear what Pastures District Supervisor Tracy Pyles had to say?

Some folks left. But most stayed to hear Supervisor Pyles make two motions:

1) Motion to ask for access to information used by Blue Ridge Mass Appraisal, the company that conducted assessments, so the Board could work with the information including sales data that was used, Excel spread sheet of the sales used in determining assessment, buyers' name, parcel information, location, price, and date, existing assessment and revised assessment. Also check into factors and computations used to determine October values of local commercial plants and what caused them to drop dramatically in January. This information would be available to the public. The motion passed 7-0.

2) Motion to ask the county attorney to research and discover if there was a way the Commonwealth provided for localities to delay assessments and, if so, what penalty would be involved. Also, the attorney would research to discover if other localities had skipped assessments in the past and what happened. This information would be made available for the next work session to be held on Monday, Feb. 23. The motion passed 7-0.

Augusta County residents who are dissatisfied with their real estate assessments are asked to turn out for the Wednesday, March 11, Board of Supervisors meeting at 7 pm at the Government Center in Verona.

Email to have your name added to the email list for updates about the assessment issue and to receive a petition to circulate asking BOS members to roll back assessments to 2004 values.

The Waynesboro News Virginian has coverage of Wednesday night's meeting along with a photo of the room packed with local residents.

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