Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In order to comply with the requirements of the Berkeley Independent, we post the following link:

County checking properties for reassessment
Published Monday, July 23, 2012 4:53 PM
By Dan Brown
Berkeley Independent

Berkeley County Tax Assessor Wilson Baggett wants to reassure county residents who may have spotted county employees in their neighborhoods and around their homes recently.
There is nothing out of the ordinary going on, he said, just representatives from his department surveying all county property in preparation for the upcoming tax reassessment.
“Real Property Services appraisers are reviewing all properties in Berkeley County for the 2014 reassessment program,” Baggett said. “State laws require each county to reassess every five years.”
Berkeley County last reassessed in 2009.
“To assure our records are accurate, appraisers from Berkeley County will be visiting all properties over the next 12 to 15 months,” he said.
Baggett added that the goal of his office is to prepare an accurate appraisal.
“It’s important for county taxpayers to know that accuracy of the appraisal is what we’re after,” he said. “Our records are five years old and it’s important in terms of coming to an accurate appraisal that we visually inspect each property.”
County appraisers will be properly identified by wearing a county ID badge with photo that is visible on their clothing. They will be driving a county car with a visible county seal.
“In performing a thorough review of your property, the appraiser may need to measure the exterior of your home or buildings located on the property and take photos,”
Baggett said. He added that his appraisers are some of the nicest people he knows.
“They are polite and willing to help,” he said. “We had one appraiser during the recent heat wave stop and help an individual overcome by the heat, even giving up her own bottle of water to make sure this person was okay.”
Baggett apologized for any inconvenience these appraisals may cause and appreciates residents understanding.    END  OF ARTICLE

Golly, that sounds all warm and fuzzy, doesn't it?  Well, before you let the fox into your henhouse, it might be to your benefit to know the rest of the story.  This upcoming reassessment is a very unique situation, so please be patient and we will try to make it as clear as possible.

Before posting this blog, we have done extensive research.  We have looked at the process involved in former reassessments in Berkeley County, spoken at length to county employees with first hand knowledge of this process and, more importantly, consulted with professional sources about the activity of the real estate market over the last 5 years.  We have learned some very interesting facts.

Everyone knows that assessed value for property tax purposes is supposed to be derived from the benchmark of market value.  When the market value of your property increases, your tax liability on the property goes up at reassessment.  If the increased market value is excessive, the County is restricted from increasing taxes more than the percentage (15%) allowed by State Law. However, the County can increase property taxes up to that point.  As we have all seen over the years, our property taxes have tended to only increase.  

When the state legislature removed school support from our primary residence property taxes, our tax bills went down markedly.   However, since that time, these lower tax bills have steadily, for a long list of "reasons", crept ever upward.  As the real estate market bubble expanded, property values increased and higher property tax bills inevitably followed. County governments, such as Berkeley, delighted in the increased revenue and, of course, found places to spend the extra funds. We have all suffered under this scenario. 

Well, now it seems the worm has turned.  Over the last several years, the real estate market has experienced a reversal of fortune.  According to official sources, both national and local, the value of real property has been depressed by an average of 30% during this time period.  Since there is no prescribed limit on the DECREASE of assessed value, as there is for any increase, this situation could be extremely problematic for the revenue flows of any government entity, such as Berkeley County. Our County government has made no provisions for a down-turn, instead, spending our money like the proverbial drunken sailor. (No disrespect intended to the drunken sailors in the crowd)   

Since Berkeley County depends heavily on the collection of property taxes to fund not only vital County services but a myriad of pet projects, any decline in the amount of revenue would be viewed as potentially disastrous. Let us revise that:  Without any revisions in the spending habits of our County government, any decline in revenue WILL BE disastrous.  

Now that our County government has pulled it's proverbial head from the sand and realized the inevitability of the situation, what do think their first move would be?  We can answer that without any reservations. THEY DECIDED TO TAKE THE CROOKED WAY OUT.  Judging from our research, this seems to be a rough outline of their plan:

We have not been able to find any prior example of the Assessor's office EVER undertaking the project of physically measuring and photographing EVERY property in the County for a single reassessment.  Historically, assessments have been based on benchmark values (some that go back 40 years or more) and on the ongoing yearly changes in the real estate market.  When improvements and/or additions are made to the property, these changes are reflected in the assessed value and, in turn, in the tax bills.  Over the next year and a half, the assessor's office says it will measure each and every one of the 100,000 buildings in the County in order to verify value for reassessment purposes.  And, from our research, we understand that all employees are aware that under measuring a house by only an inch is justification for termination.

It is almost incomprehensible but there is a multitude of taxpayers who don't ever question a property tax bill.  They receive the bill, grumble a bit, and simply write the check.  In 2014, after reassessment, Berkeley County government is hoping against hope that this remains the case.  Otherwise, they stand to lose 30 % of OUR money.  Since the decline in the real estate market is a fact, if taxpayers react in their customary manner, Berkeley County will get away with stealing millions from the property owners of the County.

This is a good juncture to list the reason why Berkeley County government claims to need ALL of this 30%.  To hear the Supervisor tell it, any reduction in the revenue stream would break the back of County government.  If such a reduction should happen, the results would be: 
  • The citizens could no longer have any police protection. 
  • The citizens could have no fire protection.
  • Even the most necessary County services could disappear.
  • Public water and sewer could stop flowing.
  • County employees could be terminated in droves. 
  • Consequently,  the world could stop turning.
But, when you educate yourself to the real facts, a quite different picture comes into focus.  No one would argue that police, fire and other services are needed.  In fact, we would go so far as to say some of these services are underfunded as it is BUT operation of these services is NOT our problem.  If it becomes necessary to operate the County with less revenue, might we suggest that Mr. Davis consider the following:

  • Stop building waterlines that cost $2.4 MILLION and serve less than 10 households.
  • Stop buying swampland for the Dan Davis Health and Human Services Campus that costs $1.6 MILLION for the land alone. The buildings would add another $20 MILLION.
  • Stop playing musical chairs with the government offices in Moncks Corner.
  • Stop building roads to increase the value of land the County plans to buy at inflated prices.
  • Stop building new libraries in towns where even the Mayor says it's a waste of money.
  • Stop operating waterlines where MILLIONS of gallons of drinking water have to be dumped to keep the water drinkable.
  • Stop spending MILLIONS of dollars on consultants for everything under the sun.  If you don't know how to do the job you were elected to do, QUIT.
  • Stop squirreling away MILLIONS of dollars in the budgets of the various departments "in case you might need it".
  • Stop hiring people you don't need, to head programs you can't define, funded with money you don't have, namely, SWMP.
  • Stop spending money on your Economic Development schemes as if we are in the middle of an economic boom.  WE'RE NOT.
  • Stop growing government.

This upcoming situation, with the reduction of revenue from property taxes, is a golden opportunity for our County government to rein in the wasteful spending and shrink the size of our County government.  This January, there will be 5 Conservative members on County Council. We will expect these 5 to address this issue and act accordingly.  Stop trying to convince the taxpayers that our money is being spent wisely when the waste is as obvious as the nose on your face.  Address the vital needs of the County and stop outspending your revenue stream.  Just for a change, handle the taxpayers' money as frugally as you do your own family budgets. 

This October we will receive our property tax bills for 2013.  Next October we will receive the first bill post reassessment.  Grits, Eggs, and Politics would encourage all property owners to examine these bills carefully.  Compare the 2013 bill to the one you got in 2012.  AND, especially compare the 2014 bill to the 2013 bill.  If the 2014 bill is not considerably less than the 2013 bill, APPEAL.  We will post the simple instructions for a successful appeal on a later blog.