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Reassessment: Tax rate up as property values fall by 5.6%

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The value of property in Georgetown County dropped by 5.6 percent after reassessment this year. County Council this week raised the tax rate to make up the difference in the county budget.

The biggest drop in values was in the town of Pawleys Island. Values there decreased 15.2 percent overall from $39.1 million in 2009. That excludes property that has not been taxed before for comparison purposes.

Values on the Waccamaw Neck from DeBordieu to North Litchfield, decreased by 2.25 percent from $272.1 million in 2009.

In Murrells Inlet, where property values totaled $111.3 million last year, values dropped 9.5 percent.

Values decreased 13 percent in the city of Georgetown, 8.9 percent in the town of Andrews and a total of 3.89 percent in the rural areas of the county.

A decrease in property value doesn’t necessarily mean residents will see lower taxes when bills start arriving in November.

The county’s tax rate is increasing by 9.6 percent. Anyone whose property values stayed the same or fell less than that amount will pay more this year.

This is the first time in recent memory that property values fell during a reassessment.

A more familiar scenario is that values rise and the county reduces its tax rate because state law prohibits local government from reaping a windfall through reassessment.

“Normally you see an increase in property values and a rollback in millage,” said Scott Proctor, the county finance director. “In this particular case, countywide we do have a decrease in property values, so millage increases to keep us revenue neutral.”

With values down 5.6 percent and the tax rate up 9.7 percent, the adjustment doesn’t appear revenue neutral.

But Proctor pointed out that the comparisons are a “snapshot” and the county has to try to anticipate how the values on its tax rolls will change during the year.

“The millage calculation took account of what we think is going to happen throughout the year,” he said. “Those values change constantly.”

Changes in value occur for a number of reasons, including taxpayer applications for primary residence status, which changes the assessment ratio for property; abatements for property that may have been disposed of but not previously reported, and valuation appeals adjustments.

Under the tax rate adopted by County Council this week, an owner-occupied home valued at $100,000 would pay $221 for county government services. Last year, that same home paid $208.

County Council Member Ron Charlton said he believes the county will be overwhelmed with property owners appealing the reassessment values.

County officials have said since the start of the reassessment process that values probably wouldn’t drop as much as people expected given the national decline in real estate markets.

The values were established in December 2009. And they don’t account for things such as foreclosures. Only transactions with “willing sellers” are used to establish a new market value.

 “I’m getting calls and questions about this assessed value,” Charlton said.

“There’s going to be a lot of people appealing what is there.”

 Property owners have until Nov. 29 to file an objection with the county assessor’s office.

 “I don’t think we’ll have enough people this year to handle the appeals from what I’m hearing,” Charlton said.

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