County citizens decry assessments

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors on Monday evening was confronted with a large audience of residents there to criticize and question the increased land use assessments, which were sent out by the Commissioner of Revenue’s office during the past several weeks.

Preceding the time for people’s comments, chairman Dallas Jones invited Commissioner Amy Carr to read a prepared statement. She said that all property reassessments are mandated by state code that real estate be evaluated at fair market value.

Carr acknowledged residents’ concerns, and said she would be available to meet with them only on an individual basis beginning on Tuesday.

Immediately after, county administrator Mike Johnson gave a step-by-step explanation of why the commissioner reassesses land (“… to distribute the collective tax burden in a fair and equitable manner. Reassessment does not equate to automatic tax increases — the tax rate is considered annually by the Board of Supervisors.”)

The county is on a six-year cycle, allowed by state code, and in the first year of the land use program, initial values were determined in 2006, but there were not changes to those values in 2012. The supervisors, said Johnson have nothing to with the determination of “use values,” but does have everything to do with the adoption of the budget and tax levy.

He also noted that changes in assessment were publicly discussed at the pre-budget public hearing on March 26; a budget workshop on April 4, April 18; and a public hearing on May 29.

When it came time for citizens comments, the first to speak was John Rawls Sr., chairman of the county’s Board of Equalization. Rawls said he had met many times with land owners about what the new assessments.

He also said he spoke with the attorney firm of Hunt and Williams, which he said told him that the BOE could make adjustments in land use evaluations.

“No one has yet approached me about drastic move,” said Rawls. “I feel I was blindsided and that BOE should reconvene.”

Gary Cross of Black Creek said to the supervisors, “You voted for a budget and you didn’t know what was in it. … I’m left with questions. Why so secret? … We have not been given our due diligence, Mr. Jones. I reckon our lawyer will be in touch.”

Linda Simmons of Courtland chided the board for its three-minute time limit after Cross had been cut off while reading his remarks.

“You have no more important job than to listen to the constituents,” she said. “I suggest that if you don’t want to listen, let someone have your seat that wants to listen.”

Jim Hart of Courtland later echoed Simmons, saying, “The people deserve to be heard. I think you ought to let people speak.”

Jimmy Lee said he’s very upset by learning of these new land use assessments, adding that it was “handled in underhanded way. Maybe it was in the budget, but it not shown as land use, nor was it made. I feel that the landowners have been discriminated against. We want an answer tonight. The BOE should be reconvened. We want an answer tonight.”

Joe Vick of Capron said it was clear to him that somehow the supervisors did not know the land use rate had changed.

“Was that fair,” he asked. “Why didn’t our supervisors know our land use rate would change? Who knew and when did you know? I, for one, am losing confidence in my board of supervisors.”

Glenn Updike of Newsoms, who had written a letter to The Tidewater News this past Sunday (“County resident questions tax bill,”) said “Something not kosher is going on here. The county is responsible. Put on your big boy britches and do the right thing.”

Irene Field of Courtland said, “I got quite a surprise, and so did others.”

She noted Johnson’s explanation of the assessment process, and then asked, “What do you think we ought to do? What can we do? I think you owe us a little bit of communication.”

Dr. Alan Edwards, supervisor, recommended that the supervisors “ought to have the assessment rescinded, and put on hold and look at and see what the heck happened, and that it be done again.”

Nearing the end of the meeting, Johnson said he was “troubled by comments during citizens time,” and noted that the board has nothing do with property assessments.

“Your budget is adopted, bills are set. You can’t do a re-do,” he continued. “I don’t know the remedy, other than the BOE. I don’t know the answer to it, but I think it ought to be explored.”

Barry Porter, supervisor, said the BOE has no authority over final overall land use assessments We don’t have that authority. Only the commissioner. The BOE only rules where there’s a discrepancy or discrimination.”

Supervisors Bruce Phillips said this particular board has never had this issue before.

Edwards initially made a motion to table the matter, but it was not followed through at the time. But later after more discussion, Johnson asked if the board could come together next week. The members agreed to continue the meeting to Thursday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. in the same meeting room.