Commissioner: Setting the record straight

Did you know the county executive’s office chose to publish a politicized editorial about the property reappraisal process with misinformation on a taxpayer funded website?

Regardless of anybody’s personal or political opinions about the assessor of property in Sumner County, or whether one feels his process is flawed or not, the manner in which this editorial was handled is an egregious abuse of power and malfeasance at the citizens’ expense.

Government websites should not be used for political persuasion or editorial content. That should be reserved for an elected official’s personal page. Since this was a public error at the taxpayers’ expense, citizens have reached out to me asking this be corrected. My analysis and corrections are as follows:

Who is the tax assessor?

John Isbell is not the tax assessor and neither he nor his office has the power or authority to tax citizens. The state constitutionally calls this office the assessor of property. The only tax assessing officials in Sumner County are your 24 individually elected county commissioners who make up the tax assessing legislative body. Commissioners are the tax assessors and they alone are responsible for raising your taxes.

In accordance with state law, assessors of property can reappraise property every four, five or six years. Driven by real estate sales, the free market determines increases or decreases in property values during those years. If citizens feel their appraised values are incorrect or have arbitrarily increased, please appeal with the assessor’s office or the County Board of Equalization (CBOE).

CTR and appeals

In publishing their “Notice to Property Owners” editorial, the county executive’s office states that the Certified Tax Rate (CTR) will not include appeals. This is false. In collaboration with the state, the Assessor of Property calculates the “revenue neutral” Certified Tax Rate (CTR) after the closing of the appeals process from the County Board of Equalization (CBOE) in June. The State then certifies the “revenue neutral” rate that is given to the County Commission in July to accept, or should they so choose, appeal it back to the State like they did in 2014. Optionally, the County Commission can choose to exceed the rate given from the State, which would be an increase on your tax bill. 

It’s worthy to note that not all appeals are settled in one fiscal year, because they can and do span multiple years. Based on this fact, technically there will never be a 100% literal “revenue neutral” certified tax rate as received and certified from the State. There will always be some minor variances keeping it short from being literal and 100 percent accurate.

2014 reappraisal appeal

In 2014, county leadership went before the State Board of Equalization (SBOE) to appeal the values from the reappraisal process, trying to politically manipulate the process in order to provide cover for raising your property taxes, while blaming the property assessor. The State and County Board of Equalization (CBOE) affirmed that 99 percent of the values presented by our assessor of property were accurate and correct after the citizens appeals process closed and after the first certified tax rate was subsequently given on July 1. The state then reaffirmed a second time the accuracy of the certified tax rate and reissued the same rate.

At the hearing, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, a member of the SBOE as well as a Sumner County resident, stated there was no breach of ethical or moral boundaries by the assessor of property during that reappraisal cycle. It was deemed as meeting all standards as defined by the state.

This unfortunate episode ended up wasting over $150,000 of the hardworking taxpayers’ dollars, as well as the county executive testifying that he is not qualified to determine if a reappraisal is correct or incorrect.

Four vs. five years

The four-year reappraisal cycle has received fair criticism as the worst option for citizens and the least fiscally responsible plan available. With Sumner County, it would require the hiring of two additional staff members, as well as two additional vehicles to service this request. According to the assessor of property, county officials and citizens alike, this is simply a waste of money and an attempt to further grow and bloat government spending, not reduce it.

Because of this, I strongly urge you to please contact your county commissioners and request that the next reappraisal cycle stay with the current five-year plan. Sixty-two percent of Tennessee counties are on a five- year cycle, which is the most cost efficient option (even over a two-year cycle) and the best one for the hardworking taxpayers across Sumner County.

County Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield represents District 11.

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