Loudon DA examines property assessments
Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
Loudon County District Attorney General Russell
Johnson said his office has opened an investigation into whether there
was criminal activity involved in the rollback of 2005 tax appraisals on
lots in the Rarity Bay residential development.
Records show that appraisals on at least 178 lots owned by developers at
the upscale waterfront community on Tellico Lake were reduced in May
2005, just weeks after the official appraisal process had been
Loudon County assessor Chuck Jenkins said he discovered the 2005
appraisal reductions earlier this year. The reductions, some by as much
as 50 percent of the previously assessed value, were authorized by
former Loudon County assessor Doyle Arp, who became county mayor in
Arp has said the adjustments were a part of the 2005 appraisal process
and were made after he received complaints about the assessed value of
some lots in Rarity Bay. He could not be reached for comment about the
district attorney office investigation.
Jenkins, who ran unopposed for the assessor's job in last week's
election, said the reductions were only made to lots owned by
developers, including Rarity Bay creator Mike Ross, and that identical,
often adjacent lots owned by private individuals were not given such
Ross declined comment on Johnson's probe, but has said he doesn't recall
requesting any assessment reductions and pointed out that he pays close
attention to appraisals and tax assessments. Arp, who says the
reductions were the result of requests from private land owners, said
Ross never asked for the adjustments.
After seeking guidance from the state comptroller's office, Jenkins
determined that the reductions on the appraisals were not justified and
has been restoring the assessments in question to their proper values.
The issue of whether or not to seek criminal charges is up to the local
district attorney, said Robert Lee, general counsel to the state
comptrollers office, division of property assessment.
Johnson met with Lee Aug. 8 in Nashville to discuss allegations made by
Jenkins. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is assisting in the probe
and will be interviewing individuals involved over the coming weeks,
One of the important factors Johnson said he has discovered is that as
assessor, Arp had the authority to make adjustments and corrections to
the 2005 appraisals as he deemed necessary.
The adjustments also were made within the legal time frame for the 2005
assessment. The yearly deadline for finalizing assessments is May 20.
Arp authorized the adjustments to be entered into the system on May 4,
In order for criminal charges to be filed, it must be proven that some
sort of "quid pro quo" existed between a developer and the assessors
office, Lee has said.
Jenkins said he finds it hard to understand how the adjustments were
made as a result of requests from private land owners when there are no
such requests on record. The adjustments in question were only made to
lots owned by developers, not private land owners as Arp contends,
The absence and possible destruction of records associated with the
adjustments to the appraisals also carries with it the possibility of
criminal charges, Johnson said. Even if records were lost or destroyed,
such a decision might not be a criminal act, he said.
According to state law, the assessor has the authority to create the
standards for how and which assessment records are stored, which means
Arp may have had the legal authority to keep or destroy records as he
saw fit, Johnson added.
Johnson said that he has requested help from the state's division of
property assessment in Knoxville in examining the assessment records
from Rarity Bay. He also may look for irregularities in appraisals at
other developments in Loudon County.