Assessment reform awaits governor

Published 9:30 pm Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Virginia General Assembly has approved legislation designed to make it easier for Virginians to appeal personal property tax assessments by localities.

Carried by state Sen. John Cosgrove, a Republican representing 10 Suffolk voting precincts, SB 872 received unanimous support from lawmakers in both chambers, sending it to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature.

It requires the locality to justify why it raised a tax assessment if the taxpayer appeals, from the point of view that city or county officials should already have the paperwork on file.

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

“A property owner, with the exception of those that are in the real estate industry, (is) not necessarily equipped to gather comparable data to appeal their assessments to a board of equalization,” Cosgrove stated.

“I liken the current law to playing cards when the house always is designed to win,” he added.

With McAuliffe’s signature the final hurdle in the path of it becoming the law of land, Cosgrove urged folks to voice their support. “I would encourage you to reach out if you are in support of this bill,” he stated.

Local real estate agent and certified residential appraiser Billy Chorey Sr., a past chairman of Suffolk’s Board of Equalization, which adjudicates appeals that can’t first be settled with a meeting between a city appraiser and the taxpayer, strongly supports the bill.

“It will assist the average taxpayer who feels his increased real estate assessment is unjustified, as it forces the local assessor’s office to show cause for that increase in writing,” Chorey stated.

That “specific written data,” he added, should help “facilitate agreement or disagreement,” with the board of equalization or circuit court handling the situation if the city and taxpayer remain in disagreement.

“The written burden of proof will be reversed from the taxpayer to the assessor’s office, which in my opinion is the only fair mechanism, since the assessor’s office already has that data readily available by the very nature of that office’s duties and day-to-day responsibilities,” according to Chorey.

Suffolk spokeswoman Diana Klink said the local assessor’s office provides the information to the property owners upon request already.

“There will be minimum impact,” Klink stated. “Where we previously explained the information directly to the property owner, now we will be providing a cover letter with the documents. There is no change to our policy, as the property owner has a right to the information.”

McAuliffe has until midnight March 30 to take action on the legislation. Brian Coy, his communications director, gave no indication whether it would win the governor’s signature.

“The governor will review the legislation carefully, and we’ll announce his actions after he takes them,” Coy responded to emailed questions.