Process Was Last
Conducted In '08,
The Market Died'
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Greene County five-year property reappraisals are nearing completion and will soon make an impact on local property values.
County Property Assessor Chuck Jeffers anticipates that many property-owners will see their property values go down, but he says that others will actually see their property values increase.
State law mandates property reappraisals every four-to-six years on a regular cycle. Greene County has long operated on a five-year cycle.
The Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury's Division of Property Assessment oversees the appraisals and provides field workers to aid in the process.
Those who disagree with their property's assessment may appeal to the County Board of Equalization, which meets beginning June 1.
A further appeals process includes the State Board of Equalization and appeal to Chancery Court, according to information on the division's website.
SITUATION WILL VARY, BUT ...
While the situation will vary from property to property, Jeffers said that the mass appraisals are so far indicating that many residential -- and possibly even some industrial properties -- will decrease in appraised value.
"Some [properties] are going to go down a little. Some will go down a lot. Some may go up," he said.
Commercial property values, especially those along the U.S. 11E Bypass, will mainly hold steady, he predicted in an interview.
However, he said, those properties qualifying under the "Greenbelt Law" (the Agricultural, Forest and Open Space Act of 1976) may see a significant increase in property value.
Property appraisals from each county are due to the state by April 1, and Jeffers estimated that information about the new appraisals will arrive in property owners' mailboxes by mid-April.
'WE WERE TOO HIGH'
The last five-year property appraisals took place in 2008, "right before the market died," Jeffers said in an interview Monday.
"We were too high, and we've been too high ever since," he added.
In general, he said, residential property "has taken a hit, quite a bit."
But lower property values do not necessarily mean decreased property taxes, Jeffers cautioned.
"If values do go down, the County Commission -- by law -- has to generate the same amount of revenue," he explained. "If the value goes down, the tax rates go up."
The Property Assessor's office has no direct influence over the tax rate and was once erroneously referred to as the Tax Assessor's Office, he said.
The assessor said it will be at least another week or two before he has specific numerical values for the changes produced by this reappraisal, but he noted that Greene County will likely be the first county in the state to complete the reappraisal process for 2013.
He expressed specific concern with the one area over which he said he has no influence -- Greenbelt properties.
He estimated that there are about 5,000 Greenbelt properties among the 44,000 total parcels in the county.
The value of agricultural Greenbelt properties is computed in the state's Nashville-based Division of Property Assessments office and is based on present use value instead of market value.
For agricultural properties, the assessment is therefore based on prices for corn, cotton and soybeans, he said.
"For Upper East Tennessee, it's corn," Jeffers explained. "What [have] corn values done? They've increased, greatly, with ethanol."
However, he did note that the valuation formula for Greenbelt properties also considers the land in parts, valuing the property-owner's home separately as well as considering crop rotations and other factors.
"It was set up as a program for farmers, to give them a break in a bad economy. And it is a good program," Jeffers noted.
"They do get a good percentage discount, if they're actively farming."
The assessor said that he has discussed these issues with state Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, and with several farmers in the area to make sure they are aware of the situation.
If local property-use values should reflect corn's increasing market price, the Greenbelt Act would then limit the property-value increase to no more than six percent per year, Jeffers added.
"So in a five-year reappraisal, you're looking at possibly a 30 percent increase," he said.
Although the full 30 percent increase is not likely "by far," the values could go up a yet unknown percentage, Jeffers cautioned.
"That's my greatest concern right now, really," he said. "That's the only thing I really don't have any power over, and I can't stand it."
As for commercial properties, Andrew Johnson Highway has been the strongest location in terms of holding its value, Jeffers noted.
"We've got some new sales out there that are really jumping," he said.
"Commercial property and industrial property have declined greatly in the last few years as far as sales go, but what we do see in sales is usually the Bypass, the hot areas.
"They're not really going up, but they're not coming down either."
For industrial properties, the empty warehouses are making appraisals all the more difficult, he said.
"What kind of value can you put on those, sitting empty?" he questioned. "It's a really hard market to do reappraisals in. We're searching for sales, and the sales we have, we have to scrutinize."
The land value itself has held its value in these areas, but the same may not be true for the actual facilities, Jeffers indicated.
"I feel good about the land, especially. We've had some good land sales," he said.
"When I took office, I started going through the Tennessee Code, and there are places in there that says in dire times, you can use auction sales and all those kinds of things [to help determine property values]. You have to really scrutinize them."
While he said most auction sales involve some personal property that disqualifies the sale from consideration for industrial values, his office has been able to use a few auctions in the current reappraisal.
Since Jeffers took office last year, he has made and seen several changes.
For one, Property Assessor's offices across the state are currently learning a new computer system that he said evaluates property values more accurately and with more detail.
As for the changes he himself has made, the field appraisers now must knock on the door when coming onto a residential property and wear uniforms: khakis and green polo shirts with the county's crest embroidered on the breast pocket.
Moreover, Jeffers said he is available to answer any questions and will even come out personally to any property upon request if there is debate about the appraisal.
"If somebody asks me, I go," he said. "Nine times out of ten, there's nothing I can do, but they appreciate that I came."
The Property Assessor's Office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday in the Courthouse Annex, located on Cutler Street.