Assessment reform sought

Published 8:30 pm Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sen. John Cosgrove, who represents 10 Suffolk voting precincts, has introduced a bill into the state legislature that would help property owners fight unfair real estate assessments.

SB 872 requires the locality to justify why it raised a tax assessment if the taxpayer appeals.

Currently, Virginians have to do their own research to support an appeal, which often involves hiring an independent appraiser.

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“The city would have to have information to change an assessment, so this flips the requirement on the locality to show why it went up,” Cosgrove said.

“This is just taking the red tape away from homeowner and using the information of the city.”

The Republican said constituents in Chesapeake came to him and said they had to do all the legwork when they challenged their assessment.

“That is a lot of work to put in for Joe Citizen, who’s working every day and trying to raise his family, if the city already has that information,” he said.

Cosgrove hasn’t heard that such legislation has ever been tried in Virginia before. “I think the support will be there,” he said.

The bill is awaiting its first vote, in the Senate Finance Committee.

“I’m sure localities will object, thinking its more burden,” Cosgrove said. “But I would reiterate they already have this information available. If they didn’t have this information available, that would be a bigger problem.”

Another bill Cosgrove has introduced, SB 873, creates a state program making diagnostic services and hyperbaric oxygen treatment available for eligible veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury.

Cosgrove said the chambers “pump up the pressure to 2 ½ times the pressure of the atmosphere, and it’s 100 percent pure oxygen. It reaches the brain area and can be beneficial in healing.”

Numerous studies have supported the treatment, he added, and it’s currently not readily available.

Things like grants, Medicaid and Medicare and private organizations would pay into the fund to provide the treatment, sparing the taxpayer, Cosgrove said.

“A lot of universities use it to heal their injured athletes,” he said. “It’s still kind of an alternative medicine, but it’s very promising.”

On Thursday, after hearing from two wounded warriors, the Senate Health and Education Committee unanimously voted to send the legislation to the Senate Finance Committee, where it is yet to be docketed.

“I think it’s going to fare very well,” Cosgrove said. “It’s pretty hard to vote against a therapy that’s going to help wounded warriors.”

Cosgrove is also championing SJ 219, which proposes an amendment to Virginia’s constitution designed to ensure transportation-specific funds aren’t borrowed for other purposes and not paid back.

In 2013, as part of a landmark transportation funding deal, the General Assembly raised the sales tax in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia to generate new revenue to be spent only on transportation project in those areas.

Cosgrove wants that money placed in an account from which it could only be drawn for construction and maintenance of the commonwealth’s transportation network.

The account could be borrowed from for other purposes only by a vote of two-thirds plus one voting member in each chamber. Even then, the borrowed money would have to be repaid “with reasonable interest within four years.”

“We just want to make sure that money is available when roads, bridges and tunnels need it,” Cosgrove said.

The proposed constitutional amendment’s presence on Tuesday’s docket for the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections would be an initial step in a lengthy process. Changing the constitution in Virginia via legislative referral — a constitutional convention is the other option — requires approval by two General Assembly sessions with a general election in between, then directly by voters on a special or general election ballot.

“It’s been tried in the past and it has failed, but I think it stands a better chance this year,” Cosgrove said.