With gas, groceries and everything else on shopping lists going up, the last thing King George County resident Carl Crump needed was a real-estate assessment that suggested his tax bill next year might climb by $800.
“It creates a hardship,” said the 77-year-old who is retired, on a fixed income and lives in a one-story rambler on 6 acres near Fairview Beach.
He said with the prices of everything being “so sky high right now, I’m going to have to rob Peter to pay Paul” in order to cover what probably will be higher real estate taxes next year.
King George officials also have acknowledged the general jarring that residents got when letters about new reassessments were mailed in October. Supervisor Cathy Binder, who represents the Shiloh District, said her husband returned from the mailbox with theirs and proclaimed he “had a beef” with his supervisor.
Binder noticed at least one mistake as she was billed for a fireplace that her home doesn’t have. She called a representative from BrightMinds, the Central Virginia company hired to reassess the value of county homes and acreages, a process that is mandated by the state. King George does its reassessment every four years.
Binder learned that the median value of homes in the county has gone up 25 percent since the last assessment in 2018. Values climbed by 9 percent in the last year alone, she said.
However, Supervisor Chair Annie Cupka said she heard from people whose property values soared by four or five times that much.
King George residents are seeing the first reassessments in the Fredericksburg area since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and resulted in higher prices on many products across the board. King George residents have called their supervisors and made inquiries to the Commissioner of Revenue’s office.
Someone even brought up the subject to Binder at a funeral, “so I know they’re very concerned,” she said.
So are members of the King George Board of Supervisors. But their displeasure seems to focus as much on the way information was presented to residents as the new assessments themselves.
Supervisors grilled Commissioner of Revenue Judy Hart at the Nov. 9 meeting about BrightMinds, how it conducted the appraisals and the format of reassessment letters. Several residents said no one had visited or looked over their properties and Hart said the company uses drones to capture some of the needed information.
New property photos are added to “field sheets,” which include views of land and various buildings, but the new images haven’t been added for this assessment, Hart said.
There were other questions that Hart couldn’t answer. She later got more information from the appraisers and will continue discussing the reassessment process with the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of the Revercomb Administration Center.
Crump and Binder’s husband aren’t the only ones with concerns about their tax assessments. Marguerite Bardone, the CEO of a communications company with headquarters in King George, said she anticipated a 20 percent hike in line with inflation—not the proposed 64 percent increase she got. She also noted several incorrect details.
At several recent board meetings, resident Ana Maria Lovell has described how “the people of King George are worried about the price of the real estate assessment.” Her home and land went up in value from $243,000 to $350,000.
“The people in King George will appreciate it if you don’t increase our taxes too much,” Lovell said.
Another taxpayer said the proposed increase is as much as she’ll probably pay for heating oil this winter.
In response to questions about when new rates go into effect, Supervisor Richard Granger said that “these assessments are just showing you the assessed value of your property.” He stressed that the Board of Supervisors won’t determine the new tax rate until the spring, after numerous work sessions on all aspects of the county budget.
Then, residents will pay the tax rate on newly assessed property, effective July 2022 through June 2023.
But that’s not what the reassessment letters suggested, Cupka said.
The form shows the total tax, tax rate and percent change in taxes for 2020 and 2021, which Cupka said is fine because those rates already have been determined.
But the boxes showing the 2022 amounts look the same way as if it’s a “done deal, signed, sealed and delivered and my new tax bill is gonna be that much money next year,” Cupka said.
She said that’s not the case at all, because the supervisors haven’t set the tax rate yet.
“I frankly think that led to the uproar that we have seen with folks being upset, with folks misunderstanding,” Cupka told Hart, adding she’d like the board to approve any future mailings that address reassessments.
Bardone, the resident whose property value increased by 64 percent, said the issues are reflective of various “shortfalls” by the company the county hired. She suggested King George follow the lead of the King William County Board of Supervisors, which in February voted unanimously to toss out reassessments done by BrightMinds and start the process all over again.
According to minutes from the King William meeting, supervisors described “the mess” created by incomplete or incorrect assessments, including a problem with the assessor, a person described as “arrogant” and inaccessible. That employee had since quit, but King William supervisors said the company wasn’t willing to fix the problems, so the board voted to start all over again.
Asked about the issues with BrightMinds in King William and what impact that might have on the King George assessments, Cupka offered no comment.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425