Cooper Files Lawsuit

In the ongoing saga of Tellico Village developer/builder Wes Cooper's refusal to pay his Adequate Schools Facility Tax, Cooper has filed a lawsuit against the county. Click Here For Lawsuit. Loudon County Mayor, Doyle Arp and Mr. Cooper maintain that he shouldn't have to pay the tax on his basement because in their view, it's not "live able space." Loudon County Building Inspectors say it is. The Loudon County Board Of Zoning Appeals say it is. I guess we will see what a judge says.

Cooper's new  6039 sq. ft. house is located in Tellico Village on the lake. The basement is 3039 sq. ft. The basement has it's own entrance opening onto Tellico Lake. There are stud walls in the basement and duct work for heat and air-conditioning, electricity and lights. On the outside of the home there is currently no heating/cooling unit for the basement but there is a concrete pad, an electrical disconnect and copper piping for a unit.

According to tax records, Cooper paid $320,000.00 for the half acre lake lot. The house is appraised at $293,500.00. The disputed tax is $3,039.00.

The debate centers around the fact that Cooper maintains that the basement is not not "live able space." as defined under the law.

TCA 67-4-2908. Tax based on the floor area of residential development.
For the exercise of the privilege of development, a county may levy a tax based on the floor area of residential development.

TCA 67-4-2903 defines "floor area" as "the total of the gross horizontal area of all floors, including basements, cellars, or attics, that is heated or air-conditioned living space."

So Cooper feels that by simply not installing an AC unit at this time should exempt him from paying the tax. This lawsuit should be heard in kindergarten court. Any five year old could see what's going on here. Maybe Cooper thinks we're not as smart as a five year old.

Suit challenges AFT assessment

Hugh G. Willett,

Tellico Village real estate agent Wes Cooper has filed suit against Loudon County and the county's board of zoning appeals to force them to comply with a county mayor's order changing the way new homes are assessed for the Adequate Facilities Tax.

The suit, filed in Loudon County Chancery Court on July 17, alleges that Cooper was given an estimated AFT bill of $3,039 in May 2007, based on 3,039 square feet of "heated and cooled space" in his residence. The estimate was based on the home's upstairs area.

Loudon County Commission implemented the Adequate Schools Facilities Tax in 2006. The AFT levies a $1 per square foot tax on "living space" in all new residential construction.

The tax was authorized by the state legislature for use in fast-growing counties. All the money collected through the AFT must go toward capital construction for county schools.

In May, a county building inspector claimed Cooper was liable for an AFT assessment of more than $6,000. The reassessment two months ago was based on more than 6,000 square feet of heated and cooled living space after the home's basement was defined as living space.

Cooper's suit claims the downstairs of his house has unfinished concrete floors, block walls, open support walls with plumbing and no heating and air ductwork installed.

To have heat and air conditioning in the basement a separate HVAC unit would have to be installed, he said.

Cooper appealed the issue to the board of zoning appeals, which ruled on June 17 that the basement space in his Chickasaw Lane home was taxable under the AFT's definition of living space.

The board made its decision on the fact that ductwork and vents installed for HVAC hookup made it clear that Cooper intended to finish the space in the basement, said board member Martin Brown.

"He also had the interior walls studded in," said Brown. "It was clear he planned to finish the basement and was trying to circumvent the tax."

According to Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp, Cooper threatened a lawsuit after being denied his appeal by the zoning appeals board. Arp said he asked the Knoxville law firm Kramer Rayson to provide a legal opinion on the board's interpretation of the finished space definition.

"They told us if we went to court, we would lose," Arp said.

On July 3 Kramer Rayson attorney Betsy Beck sent a letter to Cooper's attorney, Sam Doak, advising him that the county had reconsidered its definition of "living space" and decided to reassess the Cooper property excluding the disputed basement footage.

In the week that followed Arp's decision to overrule the zoning appeals board, discussions between his office, the building inspector and the county's assessor and trustee offices were unable to reach a resolution on the issue.

County assessor Chuck Jenkins said he was not sure that Arp had the authority to overrule the board of zoning appeals.

"I guess we'll find out," he added.

In a July 16 letter to Loudon County Building Commissioner Bill Cox, Arp ordered Cox's office to re-evaluate the Cooper tax assessment. Wording in the AFT law did not allow for interpretation that the presence of ductwork and vents would change the unfinished space into finished space, the letter said.

Cooper is asking the court to recognize the definition of finished space as space that is not heated or air conditioned and to order the building inspector to reassess his property. The suit also asks that Loudon County pay all attorney fees and legal expenses.

Kramer Rayson attorney Robert Bowman said that although the suit lists Loudon County as a defendant, he feels the issue is between Cooper and the zoning appeals board. Bowman said he will represent the mayor's office if necessary.