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Property tax due next week

By Ed Brock

Linda Wenz of Jonesboro has somewhat mixed feelings about the increased assessment of the value of her Lee Street home that has helped send her property tax bill soaring.

"It makes me feel really proud that my property is so valuable but it makes me worried about my future," Wenz said.

She had planned to retire, 55-year-old Wenz said, but she's not so sure she'll be able to, now.

"I think everybody's went up, but mine has gone way up," Wenz said.

Wenz may not be alone in her discouragement and sticker shock since the county's property tax bills, sent out in September, are coming due this Monday.

"Not everybody's went up," Clayton County Tax Commissioner Pat Hussey said.

Along with increases in assessed value of some homes, others have decreased in value. But a 1.6 mill increase in the county's millage rate affects everybody.

The millage rate added more than $200 to Wenz's bill. After appealing the assessment to the county's tax equalization board in August, the board agreed to freeze Wenz's bill at the $1,328 amount she was asked to pay in the spring, but told her that amount might still go up after the millage increase took effect.

Her final bill was $1,567.

"Which I think is a little high," Wenz said.

The man from whom she bought the simple, red-brick house four years ago paid an average tax bill of around $160, Wenz said, but since he was over 65 and didn't have to pay the school tax she expected to pay a little more.

Wenz's bill was the highest in Jonesboro that the board had dealt with, until City Councilman Luther Maddox recently appealed his bill that was even higher.

"I'm glad he has the title," Wenz said.

Like others who appeal to the board of equalization, Wenz has the option of appealing her assessment further to the Clayton County Superior Court, said the county's Chief Appraiser Rodney McDaniel.

McDaniel reassesses homes every three years and in April he sent out 62,054 notices of the new appraisals. About 25 percent of those notices indicated an 11 to 20 percent increase in value while 70 percent showed a 10 percent or less increase. The remaining 5 percent had even smaller increases, involving mostly newly constructed homes, and a small percentage of decreases.

The assessed value of a home is based primarily on two things, the current market condition in the area (how much other homes there are selling for) and the actual cost.

"That's what it takes today to construct a home as opposed to what it took during the last review," McDaniel said.

The number of tax bills sent out has also gone up, from 73,500 sent out last year to more than 80,000 this year, Hussey said. That indicates more people are buying houses.

Like most people, Wenz's tax is paid from the escrow account that she pays into from her mortgage payments.

When people are delinquent in paying their property tax interest starts to accrue, plus an additional penalty after 90 days of delinquency. After that, there's a chance the person can lose their home.

"The law is out there that the tax commissioner has to collect the taxes," Hussey said.

Auctions for houses taken from delinquent homeowners are held on the first Tuesday of every month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the steps of the old county courthouse in Jonesboro.