Tax appeals board nearly caught up with backlog

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 16, 2014 

STOCK

Beaufort County's property-tax appeals board has whittled down its 200-case backlog to 23 and expects to be caught up by March -- just in time for an expected increase in new appeals after last fall's property value reassessment.

The Tax Equalization Board held 10 hearings in October and November and will resume its meetings at 6 p.m. Wednesday with sessions in Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island, according to its chairman, Bob Cummins.

Another five scheduled hearings through mid-March should dispose of the last of the backlog, he added.

"We're in a good position, and we've got our board set up with experience on how it works," Cummins said. "It's a good thing all the way around for Beaufort County."

More work seems sure to follow.

In all, 8,200 property owners appealed their reassessed values to the Assessor's Office before the Dec. 15 deadline, and office staff has worked through about one-third of those, according to assessor Ed Hughes.

Most of those appeals will either be approved or denied by Assessor's Office staff, and only a fraction of those denied would qualify for appeal to the Tax Equalization Board, Hughes said.

"Naturally some will migrate to the Tax Equalization level -- what percentage, I don't know. It all depends on whether the taxpayers accept our recommendations and our changes."

Last year's property-tax reassessment revealed the county's first across-the-board decrease in property values. Coupled with tax increases from the county and municipalities, some property owners are now paying more in taxes for less valuable land.

A year ago, the Tax Equalization Board was swamped with nearly 200 pending appeals dating as far back as 2009. The panel was in such disarray, the county shut it down for several months.

In May, Beaufort County Council voted to restructure the board, expanding it from seven members to 15 and breaking it into three smaller boards. That essentially tripled its capacity to hear appeals and gave it a jump on the 132 cases that were pending when hearings resumed in October, Cummins said.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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