Assessor stresses open doors

Published 10:48 pm Monday, March 23, 2009

Accessibility was the message of the evening during a special informational meeting held by Suffolk City Assessor Sid Daughtrey Monday night.

Daughtrey explained the city’s reassessment process and offered insights into the problems that plagued the process last year under his predecessor. But his main message was that he and his staff are willing to spend time with the city’s taxpayers to make sure they’re treated fairly during this year’s reassessment process.

“Come by my office sometime,” he told one Lakeside property owner who still had concerns with last year’s assessment, promising to show her the factors that went into her original assessment, as well as the decisions that affected the reduced assessments that resulted when taxpayers throughout the city complained that their properties were severely over-valued.

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The assessment fiasco last year resulted in more than 500 challenges brought before the Board of Equalization. Citywide, almost three-quarters of those challenges were found to be justified.

Former assessor Maria Kattmann lost her job over the controversy, and Daughtrey took over on an interim basis. His position became permanent in November, and one priority he has set since then is accessibility.

“We’re going to have a better process this year,” he said in a brief interview following Monday’s meeting.

“Our assessor is very approachable,” Suffolk spokeswoman Debbie George added from nearby.

One new policy that has been added this year, Daughtrey said, is to require that city appraisers visit every property in the city at least once every five years. The change is a direct response to problems that arose last year, when it was learned that appraisers had never seen the homes that experienced some of the largest increases in assessed taxable value.

Still, though, he reminded those attending the meeting that an annual assessment does not require an annual visit to examine a property. In most cases, the city’s appraisers consider the city’s information about the size and configuration of a property, along with sales records for other properties in its neighborhood, to estimate the market value — and, hence, the taxable assessment — of that property.

Also important to note, he said, is the fact that the sales figures under review are from 2008, meaning that the worst effects of the sluggish real estate market probably are not reflected in this year’s assessment.

Many of those attending Monday’s meeting were from the Lakeside community and recalled huge initial increases in their assessments last year.

Daughtrey said high-value homes have suffered more from the real estate downturn, meaning homes in some of the city’s upscale neighborhoods are likely to see their values remain steady or even fall this year. On the other hand, moderately priced homes in some neighborhoods have actually increased in value, he said.

“The whole purpose … is to equitably distribute the tax burden throughout the whole city,” he explained.

Property owners should expect to see their new assessment notices in the mail April 2 or 3, he said. The information should be on the Internet by April 6.

The first step for taxpayers wishing to dispute the new valuations is to call the assessor’s office and discuss the matter with Daughtrey or his staff members.

He promised that those callers would not face the same situation they did last year, when many were directed immediately to voicemail, and their calls weren’t quickly returned.

Calls this year will go to a live operator, and messages will be tracked to ensure that calls are returned in a timely manner.

Taxpayers who still dispute the new assessments after calling Daughtrey’s office can appeal to the Board of Equalization in May. If they are unable to get relief there, they can appeal to the Circuit Court.