It's A Complicated Formula

One of the first things government officials do when they find themselves in trouble, is start trying to make things sound far more complicated than they really are. Mr. Arp has offered up a lot of explanations for his recent attempt to make obtaining public records in Loudon County more difficult. None of which makes any sense. He seems to be really hung up on the personal information aspect.

The Mayor might be able to pull the wool over the eyes of some, but having been a part of local government for four years I have a better understanding than some how things work. Probably, no one has ever ask for and received more copies of public records than I. Over the last four years I have retrieved thousands and thousands of copied documents. Budgets, bills, account analyses, just about everything you could think of. But never in all those copies did I ask for or receive any personal information on anyone. 99.9% of the information that should be available to the public has absolutely no personal information on them. As I have found, there can be some embarrassing information for some when you discover what they have been doing with tax money.

Mr. Arp claims it took two days to process a citizens request for employee salary information. I can find absolutely no logic with this statement. Every year after the final budget was adopted, I always asked for and received a complete list of all county employees salaries. This request usually took about ten minutes. It essentially required the payroll clerk to bring up the information on the computer then punch print. After the printing was complete the payroll clerk then took a marker and blacked out the Social Security numbers if they were present on the document.

I personally know every member of the finance department. They are professionals in every way and each knows their jobs very well. For Mr. Arp to claim that retrieving any records from the finance department could take two days, is just ridiculous. Any member of the finance department can provide requested information in minutes unless instructed to do otherwise. It sounds as though Mr. Arp is trying to shift the blame for his mistake to someone else.

The first mark of a true leader is to have the backbone to take responsibility for their on mistakes. I fear Mr. Arp has missed this mark miserably.

It is legal to charge fees for copies, but it is the authority of the Commission not the Mayor to establish those fees. If fees are going to be charged the County Commission should establish a fee, if any, and vote on it.

Personally, I do not think it appropriate to charge fees for copies. After all the records, paper, copy machines, electricity and everything else is already being paid by tax payers. Why then should the tax payers have to pay a second time for the copies?


New Assessor

I can not express how excited I was to see that Chuck Jenkins was appointed as the new Loudon County Property Assessor. Not just because Chuck is a good friend of mine. Not just because a majority of the commissioner had the guts to stand up to the political machine brought to bear against them. I had a bit of a selfish motive also.

Don't ask me why, but a few years ago our former property assessor apparently decided to get me. It all started about the time I ran for office the first time. I built my house in 1984 and prior to 2001 my assessment and taxes stayed pretty level with just small incremental increases as could be expected. From 2001 to 2006 my assessment and taxes nearly doubled bring my property tax bill to nearly a thousand dollars. I'm afraid if Mr. Arp had gotten his way and maintained control of his former office, in another year or two at the rate he was going, my taxes would have gotten so high I would have had to sold my house and moved out of the County. Maybe that was the plan.

With Chuck Jenkins at the helm of the assessors office none of us will ever have to fear the tax man again. While property tax is just one of the nasty little things we all have to do, at least now we we know it will be fair for all.

Below is a little story about my property tax increase. I wrote a some time ago. It's a little long but worth the read.

-v- 9/20/06


The Property Tax Saga

After the 2001 reappraisal I appealed my assessment all the way to the state. At the hearing before the state administration law judge, I was asking for a reduction in my assessment. The Loudon County Assessor was requesting an additional increase in my assessment. At the end of the day the Judge ruled that I was not entitled to a decrease but also ruled that I was not due an additional increase. Basically a draw. As we left the court room the now retired County Reappraisal Coordinator said "we'll get you next time."

Recently, I, as did every other property owner in Loudon County, received my new 2005 assessment reappraisal. It is my understanding that the average reappraisal increase for the County was 15%-17%. Well, mine went up 35% or nearly $50,000.00. I also had an increase in 2003 of 5% or $5,600.00. So in four years my 21 year old home and property has appreciated $55,600.00 or 40%.

First Stop

I exercised my right to appeal my new assessment due mainly to the fact that my new assessment is more than double the county average. First stop, an appointment for an informal discussion with a representative of the state board of equalization to appeal my assessment. At that meeting I was informed that the increase was due to the goats on the adjoining property. Apparently and unbeknownst to me I had been receiving some kind of discount because there was a herd of goats next door to my house, but I was no longer entitled to the discount since the goats were mine. I'm not making this up.

I'm not kidding. This is really what she told me. According to her, my assessments for the past twenty years were artificially low because there were goats on the adjoining property. But recently "they," who ever that is, became aware that the goats were my goats so my new appraisal had to go up even more than the average since the goats are mine. This is the honest to goodness truth.

I'm just trying to picture the meeting over in Nashville when the state appraisal people got together to go over all the new data pertaining to Loudon County. My card came up and someone there in Nashville said, wait just a minute. Van Shaver should have a higher assessment cause those goats belong to him.

I have called a meeting with the entire goat heard, all sixteen of them, for Saturday at noon and I'm going to find out who's been talking to Nashville. Somebody's headed for a Mexican barbecue.

Next stop

Again, I exercised my right to appeal my new assessment. Next stop, Loudon County Board of Equalization. Once again I am confronted with the goat story. I was quizzed about the goats and who owned the goats. There was a short discussion about ownership of the goats. I'm not sure how you prove or disprove ownership of a goat. Anyway other aspects about my house were discussed and I was dismissed with a "we'll get back to you." Now stay with me it gets better.

A few days after my hearing before the Loudon County Board of Equalization two members of the Loudon County Assessor's office with tape measures in hand were promptly dispatched to my home. Jane Smith, Reappraisal Coordinator and Jimmy Brewster, Measurer & Lister entered my home with permission of my juvenile son, while neither I nor my wife were home, to look things over. According to my son, he was told they were there to "help me." They helped me all right.

A few days after the visit by the assessor's employees, I received my new appraisal letter from the Assessor's office. Are you ready? That's right. They went up on my assessment another $13,300.00. My official letter says:

"This is to notify you that the County Board of Equalization has considered your complaint regarding the assessment of your property and has determined it should be assessed for the current year as shown below: $200,800.00."

Signed by Homer Millsaps
(who by the way is the father of) Jane Smith, Reappraisal Coordinator. I bet she doesn't loose many cases.

In just five short years my home and property assessment has increased by $96,500.00. That's almost double. Boy, if I knew 21 years ago what I know now, I would have built a dozen houses like mine. Alas hind sight is twenty/twenty.

The moral of the story, don't let goats move in next door and when a County official tells you "we'll get you next time" you can believe it.
April 6th 2006

Reappraisal, Final Chapter.

I finely had my time to plead my case of my complaint about my excessive new appraisal. I filed for a hearing before the State Board of Equalization administrative law judge July 26, 2005. I was notified in February of 06 that my hearing was set for March 29, 2006.

This time going before the Judge I had what I thought was an ace in the hole. In January of 2005 for the reason of some financial activity, it was necessary for me to have an appraisal done on my property. The appraisal was requested and performed by the lending agency. I was ultimately presented with a 15 page document from the appraisal agency that performed the appraisal. Using market surveys, recent sales in the surrounding area and recent sales of comparable properties, the certified appraisal of my home and property was $160,000.00, $48,000.00 less than our County appraiser had my property listed. This document would have to be the clincher in my argument before the Law Judge.

At the hearing I presented my case with all the a fore mentioned issues and ended my presentation with a copy of my genuine certified official copy of the commercial appraisal. The judge seemed impressed with my presentation and really impressed with my genuine certified official copy of my commercial appraisal.

The only question he asked was of Ms. Smith of the Loudon County assessor's office. He asked her if she could explain why there was such a discrepancy between her assessment of my property and my genuine certified official copy of the commercial appraisal. Her answer was simply "No."

I felt pretty confident as I left the meeting sure that had made my case with my genuine certified official copy of the commercial appraisal.

Well, a couple of weeks after the meeting I received a letter from the Judge. I was sure I had carried the day. Not so fast.

To summarize the letter, the judge ruled that since I didn't have the individuals who performed my genuine certified official commercial appraisal present at the hearing, that my genuine certified official copy of the commercial appraisal I presented could not be considered as evidence and there fore I essentially presented no evidence leaving him no choice but find in favor of the County assessors office.

I bet if I had had those individuals who performed my genuine certified official commercial appraisal present at the hearing, the judge would have dismissed their testimony because I didn't have their parents there to prove who they were.

It's a head scratcher.