Firm to reassess real estate

Published 8:11 am Friday, August 7, 2009

FRANKLIN—After a controversial go-round in 2008, an appraisal firm is in the beginning stages of the 2010 general reassessment of real estate in Franklin.

Appraisers from Wampler-Eanes Appraisal Group Ltd., the same Daleville, Va.-based firm that conducted the 2008 reassessment, are in the process of performing a sales study to determine general fair market values of real property in the city.

“They’re only looking at sales in Franklin,” said Brenda Rickman, the city’s commissioner of revenue. “They don’t look at prices in any of the surrounding counties.”

In 2008, the firm drew ire from some city residents for what they felt were inflated property assessments, as well as claims that one of the appraisers wasn’t licensed. According to Rickman, the city put out a bid for an appraisal firm in 2007 and Wampler-Eanes was awarded a contract to perform reassessments in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

“We just need to better understand the process to make sure that the process is being followed,” said Councilman Benny Burgess.

Mayor Jim Councill said that the 2010 reassessment would likely be more closely scrutinized by the City Council.

“We’ll pay particular attention and ask some of the harder questions,” Councill said. He noted that concerns about the firm’s 2008 reassessment are still fresh on some citizens’ minds because it was brought up in the recent joint meeting between Franklin and Southampton County.

A team of appraisers will inspect every taxable and non-taxable parcel in the city to determine the current fair market value as required by state law.

After the 2008 reassessment, the City Council reduced the property tax rate from 90 cents per $100 of assessed value to 77 cents, to reflect higher assessments. Property values in the city increased nearly 17 percent after the 2008 assessment.

“The market has changed,” Rickman said. “Ultimately, council decides the tax rate, and that determines how much you pay in taxes.”

Councill said that the city hasn’t raised taxes in two years and the budget is “extremely tight.” He said that property tax hikes and cuts are done to keep property owners’ actual tax bills relatively flat.

Rickman said that the current state of the economy and the housing market will likely result in lower assessments. However, she acknowledged that the assessments may not fall as much as some would expect.

“I feel like they will drop some, but I don’t know how much,” she said. “Nobody really knows until all the figures come in.” Wampler-Eanes will continue to analyze sales through May 2010.

Burgess said that he also expects a decrease in property values in the city.

“I’m expecting that in the city of Franklin, we will see a decrease,” he said. “Properties just aren’t selling.”

Wampler-Eanes expects to mail out 2010 assessed values in late May or early June 2010. Rickman said that property owners have three options if they’re not pleased with the assessed value of their property. They can make an appointment with the assessor to discuss their concerns, come before the Board of Equalization or take action in the courts.

Rickman said that city property owners should be aware that appraisers are coming to their doors. She said that if no one is home, appraisers may leave a notice for the owner to call the city’s real estate office.

It’s very important that they do so, to ensure an accurate assessment, she said.