WGNS received an email from Rutherford County Property Assessor Rob Mitchell (D) on Saturday afternoon. The email and attached letter discussed property assessment appeals and the effect of the recent appeals on the county budget.
The letter stated, “Property taxes account for only one-third of the revenues the county receives.” The email went on to say that the county government has overspent every year for the past three years, “They spent about fifty eight million dollars more than they took in over the last three years. They balanced the budget by drawing off reserves. So even if the County had no property tax appeals, the County would still be fifty eight million dollars in the red.”
Mitchell’s information to WGNS closed with, “The real question is why is a three year fifty eight million dollar deficit in County spending not an issue?”
See the entire letter at WGNSradio.com (see below):
The Property Assessor's Office would like to bring some clarity to the recent reports regarding property assessment appeals and its affect on the county budget. Most citizens in Rutherford County understand that government needs to learn to live within its means. Inflating the property values of the citizens of Rutherford County in order to raise revenues is unethical. Simply put, that was why I ran for property assessor and why I was elected.
Property taxes account for only one third of the revenues the county receives. The balance comes through sales taxes, wheel taxes and other revenue sources. Remember that number, "one third". So why are attempts being made to infer that the settling of property assessment appeals are responsible for a potential necessity for a tax rate increase? Plainly put, the refunds attributed to assessment corrections account for 5% or less of the County shortfall.
For the past three years the County has operated at a deficit. The County Government spent more money than it generated in revenues. They spent about fifty eight million dollars more than they took in over the last three years. They balanced the budget by drawing off reserves. So even if the County had no property tax appeals the County would still be fifty eight million dollars in the red.
The property valuations, which are produced by the Assessor’s office, provide the county legislative body and executive office the basis upon which to establish a tax rate. When coupled with the assessed values of property, the tax rate will generate a predetermined percentage of the County’s projected revenue requirements. If the assessment numbers are inaccurate or inflated, as they were under the previous property assessor, then the revenue projections will produce bad results. If the assessments are left uncorrected, then the numbers, upon which the County bases their tax rate, will not be correct.
Seven hundred appeals dating from as far back as 2009, 2010 and 2011, went unresolved by the previous property assessor. This resulted in inflated assessment numbers and overpayment of property taxes by property owners in Rutherford County. The current Property Assessor's office is correcting these deliberately inflated assessments. Therefore, the citizens of Rutherford County are being refunded over-payment of taxes on their property from the County’s reserve funds.
Our assessment projections for the upcoming year are about the same or slightly ahead of last year’s assessment projections before we remove possible assessment adjustments due to outstanding appeals. We made a concerted effort to inform each municipality and the County about the projected estimate so they did not spend money, which would later need to be paid back out of reserves. This is the prudent and honest way to present assessment projections.
My commitment to the citizens of Rutherford County is to always act in the best interests of the taxpayers. I do that by making certain the valuations we place on property are accurate and reflects a fair valuation under current market conditions. When disputes arise concerning valuation my approach will be to arrive at a reasonable solution via negotiation without need to rely on expensive litigation and judicial involvement. Historically such judicial judgments result in a much greater loss in assessed values and in a greater refund of over-payments to the property owner than a negotiated settlement once interest is included. The longer the dispute drags on, the greater the interest owed by the County at refund time.
The real news is realizing that for the last four or more years we have been spending more than we have been bringing in through our combined revenue sources. At some point the well is going to run dry. At some point the decision is going to need to be made to curtail the growing expenditures.
My department is finding novel ways to expand services to the community without costing the taxpayers additional money. Implementing operational streamlining methods to improve productivity and save time. Extending office hours to make it easier for citizens to conduct business with our department. Negotiating reductions in service and operational contracts with vendors. Conducting cost benefit analysis of budgetary expenditures as done in the private sector prior to authorizing a purchase. Paramount to everything is leadership by example and being grateful for the opportunity to serve.
In the Assessor’s Office we are doing our part. We are correcting injustices, correcting values on properties and making meaningful strides to restore a lost confidence in our department. The real question is why is a three year fifty eight million dollar deficit in County spending not an issue?
I invite all elected officials whether Democrat, Independent or Republican to join with me in my crusade to leave things better than I found them. While I serve the citizens currently as Property Assessor I will always be a citizen of Rutherford County. Let’s work together to provide ways to expand services without expanding our budget. We are elected to provide the citizens a service. We were not elected for them to “serve us”.
Rutherford County Property Assessor Rob Mitchell