Friday, January 8, 2010

Property Tax Assessment Cap Case Slated For 21 January

The Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County is claiming exemption from the recently passed state law that capped last year’s local property tax assessments, excepting only those counties that reassess all of the parcels contained therein on an annual basis (okay, maybe my description of the law is not legally precise, but for the purposes of this discussion it is close enough).

The folks down at City Hall claim that they do, indeed, systematically reevaluate every property every year. Like many, I do not believe such a contention for a moment; I have no doubt whatsoever that the Unified Government is exploiting the provision as a convenient excuse for raising assessments.

But not everyone is taking it lying down. For those stalwart souls desiring more detail than was included in Blake’s story in today’s Banner-Herald, Quick’s suit concerns O.C.G.A. § 48-5-296 (Removal from office on petition of freeholders; appeals), the text of which reads:

Whenever by petition to the judge of the superior court any 100 or more freeholders of the county allege that any member of the county board of tax assessors is disqualified or is not properly and impartially discharging his duties or is discriminating in favor of certain citizens or classes of citizens and against others, the judge shall cite the member to appear before him at a time and place to be fixed in the citation, such time to be not less than 20 nor more than 40 days from the date of the presentation of the petition, and to answer to the petition. A copy of the petition shall be attached to the citation and service of the citation may be made by any sheriff, deputy sheriff, or constable of this state. The officer making the service shall serve copies and return the original petition and citation to the clerk of the court as other process is returned. At the time and place fixed in the citation, unless postponed for reasonable cause, the judge shall hear and determine the matter without a jury and shall render such judgment and order as may be right and proper, either dismissing the petition or removing the offending member of the county board of tax assessors from office and declaring a vacancy in the office. If either party to the controversy is dissatisfied with the judgment and order of the court, the party may appeal the issue as in other cases.

As I understand it, Quick’s suit does not concern the assessment cap per sé, rather it alleges that the Board of Assessors illegally ceded its authority to the Unified Government’s staff. See the plaintiffs’ Petition for Removal and the Rule Nisi issued by Superior Court Chief Judge Lawton Stephens scheduling the hearing for 1:30 p.m. on Thursday 21 January.

Over the past several years, the Unified Government has lost a series of high-profile cases dealing with the policies that it has pursued (rental registration/regulation, park land condemnation, hostile takeover of the Hospital Authority, etc.); I can only hope that this case will end similarly.

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