Meetings are educational, entertaining

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 2, 2003

Special to the News-Herald

Upon viewing tapes of the May 7, council meeting I learned that no one should challenge Assessor Maria Kattmann unless they know where of they speak. And I include some members of council who apparently have been educated more by their constituency’s questions than by their own pursuit of in-depth knowledge of the subject. Perhaps they questioned the assessor during TV-covered council meetings for the benefit of those who elected them, or was it because it’s past time they themselves understood the rules of property taxation. Many times I hit the stop button, backed up the tape and listened again to determine who it was really needed more knowledge concerning the difficult evaluation of Suffolk homes and businesses. It sure isn’t Kattmann.

Maria Kattmann is sharp, knows her regulations, and can back up anything her department says or does. She does her very best to accommodate state regulations and the people she serves. She would be the first to tell you she does not do her work to

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accommodate the city of Suffolk and its dollar needs. She does not play with the rules to exact dollars to match city-spending plans. She has nothing to do with tax rates, is not influenced by council’s wishes, nor will she be browbeaten by unhappy customers. If you have a case – a legitimate case to lower your assessment – she will find time to hear you out. When you look at your tax bill, ask yourself honestly if you would willingly sell for the amount of your assessment. If you would, you should probably give her a call.

All council members wish there was a way to level assessment increases to avoid those sometimes leaps in determined value. Certainly the public in often infuriated by sudden unexplained jumps. One solution might be to double Kattmann’s staff and make days a few hours longer. Assessments are market driven; a sale down the street may affect you but usually only when the result is upwards. The cost of new homes constructed nearby can raise your values even though your home gets older every year. One thing I learned for sure is that if you are going to sell your home, now is a very good time to do it. Interest rates are low for the buyer, demand is high, favorable housing is short.

The tape provided entertainment by letting me watch and listen to those who have the right, within three minutes, to voice an opinion, pro or con, about matters of city. Most all are polite and properly dressed for the honored occasion, if that’s what is. But more to the point is what they say and how they say it. One arrived ready to mow them down, others beseech, one with Bin Laden on his T-shirt was positively entertaining. All he wanted was to put a double wide on his swampland rather than the 1974 single, but he was thwarted by our development codes that insist he must remain static or go modular. Apparently there is no gray area so one can’t do what one can afford.

He said that across the street they were building houses so close together that residents could reach out a &uot;winder&uot; and shake hands. He wondered if anyone besides city officials would give a doggone if he doubled up. The man maintained he gets no city services except trash pickup and he burns that. He said he doesn’t even get any of the city-provided &uot;skeeter&uot; dust shot into his swampland and wondered why his car value went down every year while his trailer value went up. This gentleman was a fountain of good questions among which was, &uot;How come we have the largest city in Virginia and the smallest airport?&uot; His parting shot was, &uot;If you guys have to fly anywhere you’ll have to go to Norfolk.&uot;

I believe this wise gentleman should have a special taxing district, none.

Council members agreed it was time the rules to escape taxes altogether be updated, and better explained so those who could take advantage are more apt to attempt it. The current rules are clearly written on the back of tax bill. Many of our citizens could qualify if numbers were nudged a bit in their favor. Kattmann smiled and said she would do her best to accommodate one and all.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist.