Group exploring appeal of NK land assessment decision
A New Kent Circuit Court judge has upheld the county’s position that a local citizen group’s bid to overturn New Kent’s recent property reassessment has no legal basis. But officers within the group, the New Kent County Citizens Coalition, say they plan to appeal the court’s ruling.
In a letter sent following the Aug. 19 court decision, the group’s chairman, George Slemp, and vice-chairman, Victor Golderos III, indicate they “will request and encourage” an appeal.
County Commonwealth’s Attorney Linwood Gregory, who filed the original reassessment challenge on behalf of the group as required by state law, emerged from a three-hour meeting Monday afternoon with Slemp and Golderos to say no decision has been made on whether to proceed with an appeal.
Gregory said last week that he was unsure if statutory authority existed for him to file an appeal. He contacted the State Bar Association for guidance on Monday, shortly before meeting with the coalition’s officers.
“[A bar representative] told me if I couldn’t find some legitimate basis to advance an argument in support of this lawsuit, then it would be inappropriate to appeal,” he said, adding, “I don’t know if there’s any good faith basis for that.”
Gregory promised the coalition officers a decision by Thursday, but prospects for the matter heading to the state appellate level appear dim.
“We may be precluded from filing an appeal based on the judge’s comments,” Slemp said when contacted last Saturday.
In his court order filed shortly after last week’s hearing, Judge Thomas B. Hoover pointed to state law, allowing groups of registered voters to challenge the legality of real estate taxes imposed by local government, that served as basis for the coalition’s challenge. That particular law, however, does not pave the way for groups to challenge property assessments, the judge wrote.
Hoover wrote that the appeal, along with petitions signed by more than 400 New Kent registered voters, “fails to allege any defect” in the Board of Supervisors’ order imposing real estate taxes for the current fiscal year.
“Our demurrer was pretty simple,” said New Kent County Attorney Jeff Summers who argued the case on behalf of the Board of Supervisors. “We say you can’t use this statute.”
Summers said that both he and Gregory were of the opinion that the state law allowing appeals of real estate tax levies could not be applied to reassessments.
“His point and my point most was this was not the statute to challenge an assessment,” he said.
State law, however, enables individuals to challenge their own property assessment through an appeal to the county’s Board of Equalization. If the matter remains unresolved, the next step is an appeal in circuit court.
“[Coalition members] have ample ability to pursue their own challenge by themselves,” Summers said.
Also at last week’s hearing, Hoover questioned why the county hired a real estate appraisal company, Tri-County Appraisals, that was not licensed by the state. The Tri-County representative who performed appraisal work in New Kent, however, possessed a valid license.
“I said that was not relevant to the case and [Hoover] agreed, but the judge said the county should have done a better job of investigating its contractor,” Summers said. “The judge wanted to make a point he was unhappy with some of the things the county has done.”
A week earlier, a judge in Accomack County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore dismissed a similar appeal lodged by residents and town council members in Chincoteague who cited the same state law as the New Kent group. The Accomack challenge also involved assessment work performed by Tri-County.