Flipping the burden on assessment appeals

Published 8:24 pm Friday, February 27, 2015

Kudos to Virginia’s General Assembly, which took an important step toward evening the playing field for property owners who believe their personal property tax assessments are inaccurate.

Legislation introduced by Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, who represents portions of Suffolk, needs only Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s signature to become law.

Both the House and the Senate approved the bill, which requires a locality such as Suffolk to justify why it raised a tax assessment if the taxpayer appeals. Currently, the burden is completely on the taxpayer, who must, at minimum, do his own research on comparable values, or worse, pay for an independent appraisal.

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“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 told News-Herald reporter Matthew Ward. “I liken the current law to playing cards when the house always is designed to win.”

Suffolk Realtor Billy Chorey Sr. has seen first-hand the onerous nature of the current system. He’s a past chairman of the Board of Equalization, which hears assessment appeals by property owners.

“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 said of Cosgrove’s legislation. “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.”

We commend the General Assembly for making this particular, but important, function of government more citizen-friendly. That lawmakers approved it unanimously in both chambers speaks to the commonsensical nature of the action. There are many more small, but impactful, reforms lawmakers could make if they listen, as Cosgrove did, to the citizens who are affected by local and state governments’ burdensome processes and procedures.

A spokesman for McAuliffe said the governor “will review the legislation carefully.” That review should be followed by a quick signature, so that property owners can go into the next assessment cycle with more confidence in a previously flawed system.