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City tax rate going up, but numbers may be misleading

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Not everyone likes the idea that the tax rate in Bartlett is going up.

“I think my house value went down,” said William Isley, who’s been a city resident for 35 years. “If my house went down, my taxes ought to go down.”

For most people, Isley’s guess that his assessment value went down will be true. The property assessment values dropped by a median of 10 percent throughout Shelby County, said Patrick Lafferty, chief administrator for the county Assessor of Property.

“Overall, this is the first recorded decline,” Lafferty said of the assessment completed in January. “It’s unprecedented.”

And that is what has led city officials to propose a tax-rate increase of 18 cents for the 2013-2014. They were to vote Tuesday on the budget and proposed rate increase, and schedule a public hearing on the matter for June 11. Aldermen were expected to pass it.

What that means for individual homeowners varies, Lafferty said. If a homeowner’s assessment went down from the previous assessment in 2009, that homeowner will pay the same or less in taxes than he or she did in 2012. But, if a homeowner bucked the trend and saw his or her assessment rise, that person will pay more in taxes this year, he said.

In Bartlett, that drop was offset by a recent annexation. That anomaly means that the assessment change of all properties combined was less than 1 percent. Millington was the only of the other seven Shelby County municipalities to be in the same position because of an annex.

“It’s all based on what the certified rate is, and whether that’s a rate that’s accepted,” said Lafferty. “It’s a way to compare apples to apples. Once (a municipality) gets a certified tax rate and it’s recognized, it’s used as a starting point.”

And even with that starting point, each resident really needs to calculate his or her own tax bill based upon the new assessment value and the adopted rate change.

For purposes of a median, the assessment value in Bartlett is $149,600 in 2013. On that property, the tax bill would be $624.58. Assuming that same house was worth the median in 2012 — $166,500 — the taxes would have been $620.21. That means the median taxpayer will pay $4.37 more under the proposed 2013-2014 budget.

Lafferty said that once Bartlett adopts its new budget, the county assessment office will offer a tax bill calculator on its website, http://www.assessor.shelby.tn.us/.

The proposed budget calls for a tax rate to go up from $1.49 to $1.67 in 2013-2014. It’s based on a balance of just over $42.1 million in the city’s general fund. It’s an increase of nearly $2.4 million over the 2012-2013 fiscal year. However, the line of property taxes is just $100,000 more this year than what the aldermen approved in 2012.

By law, cities must past a budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 by midnight on June 30. Mayor Keith McDonald and aldermen have been working on the budget for several weeks.

While some residents have said they don’t like the idea of paying the same for property that’s worth less money, others say they understand the need to raise the tax rate.

“I don’t like the property tax rate going up, but I can live with it,” said Richard Davenport Sr., who lives in the Cherry Valley part of town. “I don’t mind paying it because the assessment went down, but I’d like it in writing (from the aldermen) that if the assessments go back up, my property taxes will go down.”

His son, Richard Davenport Jr., who was watching a youth soccer game with his father last weekend, agreed with his dad’s remarks.

“Here’s a question: Once the housing market stabilizes, will they readjust the rates?” asked the younger Davenport.

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