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‘Sticker shock’ hits Lake Lanier residents

Tax notices spark fury among shoreline homeowners

POSTED: May 25, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Some owners of lakefront properties in Hall County are crying foul after learning the assessed value of their homes has skyrocketed, resulting in estimates of large increases in taxes owed.

“The sticker shock has arrived,” said resident Dieter Jager, who owns two homes along Pine Forest Circle.

Residential, agricultural and personal property notices arrived in the mail of county residents last week and contained the assessed value of taxable property and an estimate of this year’s tax bill.

For most homeowners, the assessed value of their property has changed little. But a reassessment of 6,558 lakefront homes undertaken by the county tax assessor’s office this year has driven up taxes for about 90 percent of these properties.

The average increase in assessed value is 39 percent, or about $104,000. And that increase equates to a hike in taxes of more than $1,000, on average, county officials said.

For Jager, the value on his homes jumped from $172,000 and $389,000 last year to $345,000 and $490,000 this year.

Jager called the reassessments “arbitrary,” adding lakefront homes were unfairly singled out.

“I will be glad to pay my fair share as long as the rest of the county is taxed equally,” he said.

Jager isn’t the only one questioning the reassessments.

Tim Geiken owns a lakefront home on Trudy Circle in Gainesville.

“I about blew a gasket” when he received the notice, he said.

Geiken said the assessed value on his home increased $125,000, topping out at $438,000.

He said county tax assessors informed him the change was largely a result of reclassifying his dock.

But it doesn’t end there for Geiken. The value of his power boat, which he said is 14 years old, jumped to $12,800 from $9,200.

Geiken said he was bewildered the assessed value of a depreciable asset like a boat could increase.

Meanwhile, Drew Leeuwenburg, a Realtor who owns a home on Woodlake Drive, might have experienced the single largest increase in assessed value.

He said after appealing his tax notice last year, the value of his home was lowered to about $305,000. Now, the value is staked at $602,000.

Leeuwenburg said his property tax bill would double from about $4,000 to more than $8,000.

He said the value assessed on his dock is way off, adding tax officials had miscalculated the age of the dock as well as the materials it’s made of.

Moreover, Leeuwenburg said the assessed value simply doesn’t add up to the fair market value of the home.

“I’d take $450,000 for this house in a second,” he said.

Hall County Chief Appraiser Steve Watson defended the reassessments even while acknowledging the appeals process could result in lower valuations for many lakefront homes.

“It certainly wasn’t arbitrary,” he said of the methodology used to reassess the homes. “Over the past several years, we’ve consistently seen that lakefront property has significantly outpaced our county appraisals.”

Watson said the reassessments were based in part on comparing appraised values with the actual sale prices of lakefront properties.

Homeowners have until June 30 to appeal the valuations, but cannot protest the estimated tax.

There were 2,700 appeals of tax notices last year, but that number is likely to grow this time around.

“I would easily expect that to double,” Watson said.

And perhaps herein lies some good news for homeowners upset about the reassessments.

Watson said his staff would address every appeal and send appraisers out to confirm the valuations. Revised notices would then be mailed, at which time residents have 30 days to file an appeal with the state Board of Equalization.

But Watson said he is confident it won’t go that far for most homeowners.

“We won’t satisfy every customer,” he said, but “there’s usually a higher percentage of them that we can do something for.”

The furor over the lakefront reassessments quickly spread to social media last week. Dozens of residents took to a Lake Lanier Boaters Group Facebook page to express their discontent. Like Jager, Geiken and Leeuwenburg, they promised to appeal, and even raised the prospect of filing a class-action lawsuit against Hall County.

But Gainesville attorney Steve Gilliam, whose practice includes real estate litigation, said this kind of lawsuit is unlikely to proceed.

Gilliam said the county’s methodology appeared to be a “one-size fits all” approach, and that as a result homeowners should look into getting their properties appraised on their own, as well as investigating how their home value corresponds to others nearby.

“People need to be diligent and do their homework,” he added.

The re-evaluation of properties primarily accounts for a 6.58 percent increase in the overall tax digest, or taxable properties, in the last year.

Reassessed properties account for a $246 million increase in new taxable value. Real growth, or new construction, totals $81.6 million.

While lakefront homeowners appear to be united in their opposition to the reassessments, at least one has accepted the blow. Richard Mecum, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, said the assessed value on his lakefront home had jumped 50 percent.

But he’s only surprised the increase didn’t come sooner.

“I’m good with it,” he said, adding the fair market value of his home was likely higher anyway.


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