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Hall names new chief appraiser
Gainesville native to begin Monday
Steve Watson

A Gainesville native has been hired as Hall County's new chief tax appraiser, the county announced Friday.

Steve Watson will begin his new job on Monday, and the chairman of the board of tax assessors said he believes Watson has the right skill set to excel in the position.

"We did quite a bit of research and study," Chairman Whit Powell Jr. said. "

Steve really stood out to us. He had the right leadership skills. He understands tax law. And he has many years of experience in the field of tax assessment."

Watson has 25 years of experience in the field, most recently as deputy chief appraiser in Gwinnett County, a position he has held since 2003. He previously was chief appraiser in Stephens County.

Watson could not be reached for comment Friday, but in a news release from the county, he said he was happy to be working for Hall County.

"The community has a high expectation of us and we have a great responsibility, because we are stewards of the property tax system," Watson said. "I live in Gainesville and love this community. I am excited to come back to my roots and serve as chief appraiser for Hall County."

Watson is a certified appraiser and a member of the Georgia Association of Assessing Officials and International Association of Assessing Officers.

Watson is a Gainesville High School graduate and attended Gainesville State College in Oakwood.

The tax assessor's department is responsible for appraising tangible personal property at fair market value on an annual basis.

Watson takes the reins at a difficult time for the department.

Due to a new state law, counties are required to send an assessment notice to every property owner notifying them of the value of their property, regardless if it has changed. Based on 2010 numbers, the notice will not contain final tax estimates.

The higher volume of notices is likely to generate a higher number of people appealing their property values. The appeal deadline falls on June 30, meaning officials will be hearing appeals after fiscal year 2012 starts July 1.

Powell said he expects the office to handle about 14,000 appeals this year. The office usually processes about 3,000 per year.

"This isn't just a Hall County thing," Powell said. "The percentage of taxpayers who will file an appeal is going to increase everywhere. Steve's experience in Gwinnett County, which is a good bit bigger than our office, is going to really help us."

The department has been without a chief appraiser for more than five months. He said the remaining staff did an excellent job to keep the office running smoothly.

"Don Elrod (assistant chief appraiser) and the rest of the staff have worked hard to maintain the office while we didn't have a top person," Powell said.

Watson replaces Mike Henderson, who resigned in November to take a job in another county. He resigned nearly two years after a controversy over his own taxes.

A citizen watchdog group brought complaints against him in 2008, and an auditing firm reported he received a homestead exemption on a property where he did not live and owed $890 after the exemption was removed and the value of his property was readjusted.

In December 2008, the board of tax assessors voted 3-2 to reinstate Henderson as chief appraiser following the audit of his tax records.