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Audit: New tax assessor takes on reappraisals done outside standard cycle

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(The Center Square) – The Martin County tax assessor is reviewing hundreds of reappraisals under previous leadership that were conducted outside of the standard appraisal cycle, perhaps to boost revenues.

Allegations the county reappraised property tax values at the time of sales to increase county tax revenues prompted the state auditor to launch an investigation that largely substantiated the claims.

An audit report issued Wednesday found at least 488 properties sold between Jan. 1, 2018 and Feb. 22, 2022 were reassessed ahead of the county’s next scheduled revaluation in January 2025.

State law allows county tax assessors to reassess property outside of the eight-year revaluation cycle for specific allowable reasons.

“Investigators reviewed the County’s records for all 488 properties that were sold from January 1, 2017, through February 22, 2022, and were reappraised after their sale date and found the former Tax Assessor did not document a reason for any of the reappraisals,” auditors wrote. “The sale of property alone does not qualify as a cause for a reappraisal.”

A review of the county’s computer system uncovered notes and changes that supported allowable reappraisals for 229 of the 488 properties, but revealed no supporting information for 259.

Of those, 237 resulted in an increase in assessed value, while 22 properties decreased in assessed value.

In one case, the tax value nearly tripled, going from $54,050 to $147,750, boosting tax liability by $780. In another, it nearly doubled from $161,150 to $312,420, which led to a tax liability increase of $1,362.

“In addition to the increased tax liability for property owners with an increased property value, property owners had to bear the burden of proof to appeal the new appraised value,” according to the audit report.

The affected property owners were notified about the increased values and updated tax liability and given a month to appeal, but were not informed about the reason behind the change. The situation put the burden on property owners to appeal to the Property Tax Commission, which often involves hiring an attorney.

The former tax assessor, who left the office last spring, blamed the lack of documentation on limitations with the county’s computer system. Auditors noted the county also lacked a formal policy. The new tax assessor told auditors she’s successfully using the same computer system to document changes.

Martin County commissioners responded to the audit report with a letter to State Auditor Beth Wood on June 23 that outlined new policy and notifications for property owners when reappraisals are conducted outside the typical eight-year cycle.

The county is now reviewing the 259 properties without proper documentation over coming months and will adjust values as needed. Commissioners wrote the work is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

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