Archived Story

City flouts rules in tax refund

Published 6:10pm Saturday, July 13, 2013

The city of Suffolk may have breached state law by refunding erroneous real estate taxes beyond a three-year limitation without a court ruling.

Nansemond Cold Storage was reimbursed $329,866.39 for erroneously paid taxes and interest on March 19, city Treasurer Ron Williams confirmed.

The payment involved erroneous assessments for two commercial parcels on the corner of East Washington and County streets, according to records obtained under Virginia’s open-records law, as well as the city’s explanation.

The Assessor’s Office learned a building had been assessed on two different parcels after being approached by the property owner, city spokeswoman Debbie George stated.

“The appraiser went out and inspected, thus confirming the situation,” she wrote in an email.

Exoneration forms, which record adjustments and rebates, show a refund was subsequently approved for fiscal years 2002-2003 through 2010-11 — a total of nine years.

“It is my understanding that this was a case of double taxation that could have gone to court,” George wrote. “The city chose instead to settle the matter.”

Asked to justify the decision to sidestep a court application, she cited a state code section dealing with refunds beyond the three years and the current year and stated that the code allows cities to autonomously grant the refunds.

That code reads, in part: “When it is shown to the satisfaction of the court that there has been a double taxation … the court may order such erroneous taxes to be corrected.”

“Some cases are limited to three years’ refund; because this was a case of double taxation, it was longer than a three-year time period,” George asserted.

Assessors in other cities maintain only a court can decide to go back more than three years.

“As far as I’m aware, we don’t have the authority to do that (beyond three years),” said William Rice, Chesapeake’s assessor.

An error involving another parcel and taxpayer account number involved a building destroyed by 2003’s Hurricane Isabel, George stated.

“That was brought to our attention when they addressed the issue of the building (duplicated) on two parcels,” she stated. “Appraisers then went out and inspected the property to verify that the building was not located on the site. Additional verification was completed through pictometry” (aerial imagery).

That part of the refund, representing a small portion of total, was for 2008-2009 through 2010-2011.

Attorney and businessman Mat Pope, a partner in Nuts for Wildlife, a bird and wildlife feed processor located at the same address, said he handled Nansemond Cold Storage’s 2012 sale of property at 160 County Street to Freezepop LLC, during which the double taxation “was brought to my attention.”

Nansemond Cold Storage then enlisted Pope and his “business solutions” firm, SilverKnight Advisory Group, to present the issue to the city, Pope said. He said he presented the error to assessor Jean Jackson.

“Now, if you’ve been overtaxed, the first thing you do is go to the people that have been taxing you and present the case,” Pope said.

“Everything was very professional. It’s a complex issue with a lot of research. This is entirely different than someone coming in and saying, ‘I think you have overtaxed my house this year.’”

When the city’s actions were described to the Virginia Department of Taxation, spokeswoman Virginia Slaughter responded, “The Department is not able to comment on the legality of the city’s actions.”

Officials with Nansemond Cold Storage, which is owned by Charles Pond, declined to comment, including on how it could have been overtaxed for almost a decade and its knowledge of the error’s origination.

 

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  • MrJiggyFly

    Appraiser . . . Look at the dates. It was before Jackson was hired.

    You obviously have sour grapes about her being assessor. You make some strong accusations about her, the CM and the Mayor. Why don’t you have a backbone and put your name to it? You must have some sort of connection with this office based on your past comments. Maybe a past employee who either got fired or had coward backdoor plan that didn’t work out? Or maybe you were looked over when she was hired? Or maybe you are one of those people who isnt happy with themselves and just wants to make life miserable for everyone else. Grow a spine if you are gonna make accusations.

    Suggest Removal

    • Mr. Developer

      You are correct, but the refunds are mishandled by code while she is here. Just tired of seeing citizens money being thrown away. Kattmann was a better assessor, but she was terminated for doing what she was told to do. I have never worked there, but have close ties with folks that did/do.

      I do find it funny that someone without their real name attached to their profile, calls me out to use my real name. Most people here do not use their real names. I think I know your name, it would be hubris.

      Suggest Removal

      • MrJiggyFly

        I’m not the one attacking the integrity of the assessor, city manager or mayor with just an opinion and no substance. No need for me to use my real name. If I have a problem with a person or a department, I take it straight to them.

        Suggest Removal

  • ncarolinacountry

    Sounds clear cut to me !
    A mistake was made and they rectified it without wasting taxpayers money on lawyers. You should be happy!!

    The headline is biased, you should be ashamed of that kind of sensationalization.

    Suggest Removal

    • Mr. Developer

      Because she broke the law to refund that far back. Now, every citizen in the city that files for historical relief will have to be treated the same way. Ms. Jackson has shown that she will treat certain tax payers differently than others.

      Suggest Removal

      • ncarolinacountry

        just because some files doesn’t mean it was justified.The article didn’tsuggest the refund was unwarranted, just not done properly and that may be so.

        I have to laugh when citizens South of you complain about the County government, taxes and laws.Compared to Suffolk, we are Utopia. Good Luck.

        Suggest Removal

  • Roger Leonard

    Why no oversight from that well-qualified city manager? These were. City funds and deserve the necessary legal process, not arbitrary decisions. More bad management…

    Suggest Removal

  • Mr. Developer

    Is anyone surprised? I have dealt with that office for years and since Johnson’s inability to select a qualified Assessor seems to be the biggest issue, can anyone say that they are surprised? This Assessor and the previous one were both hired because they were from Suffolk, not because they were the best qualified. When trying to hire the new Human Resources director they looked for and found a well qualified candidate; when trying to find a Fire Chief they brought someone in from out of state. Why then, do you hire someone with NO mass appraisal experience? Jackson was a bookkeeper/slash quasi-accountant that got an appraiser’s license in the early nineties. The best thing that she accomplished was hiring a competent Deputy; who has since left and gone to another city. They are hiring for that position now, and do you think Jackson will hire anyone that knows more than she does? From what I know, the staff is in turmoil because Jackson rides them with micro-management, allows an unlicensed supervisor to mistreat the staff, and Mayor Johnson and her merry band of lackeys just sit around and let it happen. Council will fail to act on this as they do on anything else regarding the Assessor’s Office. They allowed the Assessor to tax Home Owners Associations against State Code, and they allow Jackson to sit a position with no ability to understand how to give her a proper performance review. From what I have been told, Council takes Jackson’s word on how well she performs, because Council has no working knowledge of how to assess how well the assessments are done. If you ask an employee to give you a self-assessment of performance, how objective will they be? How thorough will they be when they have never performed any level of assessment work prior to being handled a paycheck larger than anything they have ever made before? It takes assessors years of work to become experienced enough to run the office in a competent manner. Again, is anyone surprised? The best thing the city could do is find a competent, qualified person with some experience in the Assessment field; either that of do what Isle of Wight does, hire it out to a third-party company.

    Suggest Removal

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