In most counties, homeowners unable to come to an agreement on the value of their property with the county go before a hearing board. The hearing board is supposed to be independent, a separate entity from the county with no real dog in the fight.
But in Alabama, that isn’t always the case. And it’s attracted the attention of a lawmaker, according to this story in the Alabama TimesDaily.
Tammy Irons, a State Senator from Florence, is asking the Legislative Reference Services to assist in deciding if Alabama law allows employees of the Department of Revenue to hear property appraisal appeals if a board of equalization isn’t available. On appearance it could be a major conflict of interest for members of the county government to defend essentially the values that they set.
Property values are set by the Department of Revenue along with local county revenue commissions.
The director of the Department of Revenue’s Tax Division, Bill Bass, said state allow allows his agency to hear appeals if there is no local board available.
In one case, Bass aid Lauderdale County had only one person on its board of equalization, where a board requires three members, with two necessary to be present to hear an appeal. So Bass told Lauderdale County that his agency would conduct the hearings.
All counties are required by state law to have a board of equalization, whose members are nominated by the county commission, county board of education and municipal governments. Board members are not allowed to work for any governmental agency.
Of Alabama’s 67 counties, Bass estimated that 10 did not have a board of equalization available in 2011.
Irons said she’s simply trying to clarify if what the Department of Revenue is doing is legal. If so, she’d like to see any loopholes tied up to make it clear.
The story listed no available statistics as to how many appeals are successful when heard by the Department of Revenue as opposed to a local board.
What do you think does this sound like a conflict of interest? It’s hard to say it doesn’t. Hopefully the possibility of representatives from the state hearing appeals doesn’t discourage people from potentially appealing their assessment. You just have to hope that it’s on the up and up. If you think you might be overassessed, log on to ValueAppeal and get a fast and free analysis of your property. You might find out that you could save hundreds or thousands on your tax bill.