Today is Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A teachable moment

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I experienced firsthand the collective ire of my neighbors when I presented them a petition addressed to the Wilson County Assessor of Property (WCAP) to review and make proper reductions to the 2016 appraised values on our properties. They all received the same notification in the mail early in the week and were understandably upset about the inconceivable increases ranging from 42% to 50%; my case being 44% with the land-only portion 60%. They all signed the petition; many thanking me for taking a stand.

I felt proud to be an American. Proud that I was privileged to live in a United States of America, not Russia or China, a country that guaranteed me the Constitutional rights to petition the government for grievances.

I had no preconceived notion that I would be successful in getting the appraised values lowered. But I thought I would get action and, therefore, at least the satisfaction of knowing I tried.

Well, apparently the WCAP didn't get the email that the citizens of this great country have inalienable rights. The Assessor of Property refused to sign receipt of or accept our petition. He did not offer any assistance or remedy as to where I should take the petition. Only that the people on the petition should make an appointment individually, not collectively, with the Board of Equalization (mine previously scheduled for late June) and state their case. I will not go into the details of my emotional encounter with the WCAP. But I will say the Assessor of Property needs to work on his interpersonal skills. He was elected by us - he works for us - I think he should treat us with more respect!

After my encounter with the WCAP, I talked to three county/state elected officials, whose names will remain anonymous, and asked them where I should take the petition. All three stated the same thing. Take it to the WCAP. I just smiled. Besides political lip service, they all paraded the same "revenue neutral" rhetoric which, in reality, is for the county as a whole and not the individual tax payers. In short, taxpayers with the aforementioned appraisal values are going to be hit with a substantial tax increase. Period.

In retrospect, I look at this situation as a teachable moment - an education. We the taxpayers need to be more informed and so does the WCAP. Obviously, an adversarial relationship exists between the taxpayers and the WCAP. Taxpayers don't want higher taxes while the WCAP position is "the burden of proof" for no increase is on the taxpayers. And that has only added fuel to the fire.

Educate the people WCAP - I believe the increases in question would be more palatable to the taxpayers if they understood WHY their appraised value went up so dramatically, and WHAT processes and formulas went into that calculation? Taxpayers need to be convinced the process is not willy-nilly, not disproportional and justifiable. Why is a good friend of mine in the affluent neighborhood of Richmond Hills seeing a 15% increase while mine is 44%? Maybe consider holding educational (no complaint) town hall meetings to field and answer the "whys" and "whats."

Educate yourself and stand up for your rights taxpayers - don't just complain, do something about it! If you feel you're unfairly taxed, call the WCAP. Setup an appointment with the Board of Equalization. Do your homework. Investigate real estate comps in your area; document property devalues (high voltage towers, topography grades, flood zone, etc.) that differentiate you from your neighbors. Use the power of the media. Generate a petition. Stand up for your rights and state your case!

The last teachable moment is for the Wilson County Assessor of Property. In the future, if a resident comes into your office with a signed petition, cordially ACCEPT IT and forward it to the appropriate county personnel within or outside your department. Respect the fact that a lot of time and effort may have gone into the formulation and it is the voice of the people. More importantly, you represent the county. Your refusal, as a county official, to sign for and accept the petition is a violation of the petitioners Constitutional rights. The right to petition government for redress of grievances is guaranteed all citizens of the United States by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. The petition section of the 1st Amendment, also known as the Petition Clause, states that "People have the right to appeal to government (federal, state, county, local) in favor of or against policies that affect them or in which they feel strongly. This freedom includes the right to gather signatures in support of a cause and to lobby legislative bodies for or against legislation."

Enough said.

Doug Salerno

Lebanon, TN

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