More than 100 boats in Franklin County have been overtaxed, inflating some residents’ bills by several hundred dollars and causing corrected bills to be mailed Tuesday, officials say.
County Assessor Tom Copeland said it is not anyone’s fault that this has happened but pointed to issues with boats having similar names but vastly different values.
For instance one boat was called Weld Craft while another was spelled as one word as Weldcraft, said Sue Barnhart, personal property supervisor with the assessor’s office.
In some cases aluminum fishing boats were confused with fiberglass ski boats that could be worth three times as much, according to the assessor’s office.
Union resident Charles Jackson said he was overtaxed on his boat.
“It feels terrible,” Jackson said.
This year’s tax bill listed the value of his boat at $3,860 when it was only $230 last year, he said. It is not a big, fancy boat but just a regular johnboat, he added.
He complained to the assessor and said the value got dropped to $1,350. But that is still not low enough, he said, adding that he will keep up the fight.
“The question is where do they come up with these numbers?” Jackson asked.
In other cases, there was a boat called Legend but another called Legends. The assessor’s computer system, which uses the National Automobile Dealers Association manual, only recognized the more expensive one, he said.
But now the erroneous bills are being fixed, Copeland said, adding, “It’s my obligation to you as a property owner to get your product correct.”
Ultimately, more than 130 boats were valued too high, Copeland said.
County Collector of Revenue Linda Emmons said it appeared that there were around 250 boats affected, but Copeland said it was less.
In fact, with all the boats in Franklin County he said he feels fortunate that more boats were not affected.
Copeland said his office became aware of the problem with boats being misidentified when taxpayers complained about their bills.
“Immediately we started investigating, and we found that there was some error in the reporting of the product to us — not on what we did,” Copeland said.
He added, “We did our job and completed it and did it right.”
His office recently started using a new statewide system that determines property values by entering the vehicle identification number on cars and trucks. This helps come up with a more accurate value, he said. But he noted that the VIN system is not used on boats, but now it may be.
Property owners submit forms to the assessor’s office indicating what they own, Copeland said.
“We have found a specific boat that is sold by a primary dealer that the name does not fit the description in the NADA book,” Copeland said.
This resulted in the assessor’s computer system recognizing boats as being more valuable than they actually were based on the information the property owner submitted, according to the assessor’s office.
If people have already paid the incorrect bill, then they will be entitled to a refund, Emmons said.
Emmons said she hopes people check their bills to make sure they are correct.
Copeland said he is unaware of other property being affected.
Jackson, the Union resident, said he was also overtaxed on his motorcycle. He said he received a tax bill that listed the assessed value of his motorcycle at $7,350 when it was only $2,380 the year before.
He said he complained to the assessor’s office and got the value reduced to $2,309 on the bike, which he said was homemade out of different parts. He still does not think that is low enough since the value is supposed to drop 3 to 4 percent a year.
Jackson vowed to keep fighting his case to lower his tax bill. A class action lawsuit against the county is not out of the question he said, adding that he would be interested in seeing if other taxpayers have had similar problems with their bills
In 2012, his total property tax bill was $256. But when he got this year’s bill it was $916. But he complained and ultimately got it reduced down to $479.
“I plan on going up and complaining again tomorrow,” Jackson said, adding that he also planned on making an appointment with Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer.
Jackson said he does not know what gives the assessor’s office the right to increase taxes without a vote of the people.
Franklin County airplane owner Jim DeVries said he and other aircraft owners are getting “crazy bills” this year, too.
He said his airplane was assessed at too high of a rate. It should have been assessed at 5 percent, but he said he got a bill that assessed it at 33 percent.
After he got his bill, he said he went to the county assessor’s office to complain and the bill was fixed at the 5 percent rate.
He said his airplane should have been assessed at 5 percent because it is considered an antique.
After the rate was decreased, the tax bill on his airplane dropped from $339 to $50, he said.
Meanwhile, DeVries said he has raised a separate issue with the state tax commission over the value of his airplane. He said the county set the value at $16,500, and he is trying to get it reduced to $1,500. He said the plane does not even have wings and is just a “pile of parts.”
Copeland said he welcomes people contacting his office if they have problems with their bills. If they can’t get issues worked out, then residents can appeal to the state tax commission, he said.