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County budgets cut to make up for big tax-bill error

Posted: August 19, 2012 - 12:05am
Because of a keying error in the Columbia County Tax Assessor's Office, Harry and Annette Humbert's $250,000 home near Grovetown was valued at more than $23 million, resulting in a tax bill for nearly $245,000.   Photo by Barry Paschal
Photo by Barry Paschal
Because of a keying error in the Columbia County Tax Assessor's Office, Harry and Annette Humbert's $250,000 home near Grovetown was valued at more than $23 million, resulting in a tax bill for nearly $245,000.

Columbia County officials had to make unexpected budget cuts this past week to cover the loss of revenue from one enormously erroneous tax bill.

Harry and Annette Humbert found the error when they opened their bill Monday and saw their two-story home in the Kingston subdivision, off Wrightsboro Road near Grovetown, mistakenly had been assessed at more than $23 million.

“Twenty-three million is a little out of my reach,” Harry Humbert said. After his wife noted that the tax bill for that assessment – $245,723.23 – was about what they paid for the home in 2009, he called the tax office to point out the error.

Ordinarily, tax-assessment errors are fixed during the appeals period after assessments are sent to property owners, but the Humberts said they neglected to open their notice because they assumed their mortgage company would handle the bill through escrow funds.

“I wish he had appealed during the assessment period,” said Jeremy Roese, Columbia County deputy chief appraiser. “We never heard from the gentleman until he got his bill.”

The county’s Board of Assessors met Tuesday and approved the correction to the Humberts’ bill. The error occurred when a clerk in the assessor’s office incorrectly keyed in the home as sitting on 2009 acres instead of 2.09, Roese said.

Because the county’s tax digest already had been set based on the higher revenue figure, county officials had to cut that amount from the current year’s budget.

The county’s school system, on paper, is taking the biggest hit. It lost nearly $160,000 in expected revenue on its recently finalized 2012-13 budget.

The reduction came just two weeks after the county told school officials they would lose $250,000 to make up for four years of overcharges to disabled veterans.

“I’m waiting on one of these errors to go in our direction,” School Superintendent Charles Nagle told school board members Tuesday. They were accounting for the revenue reductions while making plans to fund more teachers than expected.

In addition to the loss for the school board, the corrected bill also reduced expected county tax revenues by nearly $94,000 and took $18,789 in expected revenues from fire services, said Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson.

“We based our digest and budget on what we thought revenues and expenses would be,” Johnson said. “We’ll have to make it up in other areas.”

Roese said since the error was discovered, he’s contacted the programmer who set up their assessment system and added an additional step to help prevent such errors in the future.

“We hate that this happened,” he said. “We strive to do our best, but then we have this happen, and you’re like, ‘Ugh.’”

As for the homeowners, “We just kinda made a joke about it,” Annette Humbert said. “Bill Gates is gonna be jealous.”

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