County sues over property tax appeals
Assessor files lawsuit challenging reduced valuations

The Board of Equalization has long been a mediator in disputes over property tax appraisals.

If you think the assessment on your home or business is too high, the board is the place to take your appeal.

But what happens when local government doesn’t agree with the board’s determination?

Real estate developer Frank Norton is finding out.

The Hall County Board of Tax Assessors has filed suit in Superior Court appealing 16 decisions made by the Board of Equalization this fall. 

The suits largely involve apartment complexes, including Church Street Manor, a federally subsidized development for elderly and disabled residents located near the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

The Norton Agency is the general partner for an investor group that owns the complex and is named in the suit. 

The appraised value of Church Street Manor rose to over $3 million this year from $1.62 million in 2016.

The taxable value, which is assessed at 40 percent of the appraised value, increased to $1.2 million from $650,000 as a result. 

“We know that it’s not worth that,” Norton said. “So we appealed.”

Norton said the property was unfairly compared with similar developments in Atlanta.

On appeal, the appraisal was lowered to $2.6 million, Norton said, but that remained too high for his liking and he took his dispute to the Board of Equalization.

The board, which consists of three members, agreed with Norton and lowered the appraisal to about $1.6 million.

“The next thing I know … Hall County Board of Tax Assessors is suing,” Norton said. 

In court filings, the Board of Tax Assessors asserts the decision by the Board of Equalization was “contrary to law and fact, insufficient, unsupported by the record, and does not reflect the true market value of the parcel.”

Of those 16 cases filed, five have already been resolved, leaving 11 still active, according to Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley.

In four of the five resolved cases, the appraisal was settled at somewhere between the initial tax assessors figure on the high end and the Board Equalization determination on the low end.

In the fifth case, the Board Equalization’s determination held.

“As these matters involve pending litigation, no further comment can be made,” Crumley said.

Norton said his firm has appealed tax appraisals in approximately 50 different jurisdictions and that he “never heard” of a local government appealing the decision of the Board of Equalization.  

The tax assessor’s office has targeted specific properties for re-appraisal in recent years, beginning with lakefront homes in 2014. 

Chief Assessor Steve Watson said at the time that the reassessments were necessary because properties had been undervalued for years. And a state-mandated moratorium on reassessments was in place from 2009 through 2011.

This year, apartment complexes were a point of focus. 

Norton said he has hired an attorney and that he anticipates a court case. 

“This is an arrogant move, in my opinion,” he said. 

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