Lawyers for a planned forested community in Monroe County who filed suit against the county commission alleging the properties were unfairly assessed argued in circuit court that the method for setting tax rates is inherently unjust.
Mountain America LLC, the company which owns and markets Walnut Springs Mountain Reserve, filed the suit earlier this year after the Monroe County Commission, sitting as the board of equalization and review, upheld increases in property assessments made by the county assessor.
The development encompasses some 1,200 acres of mountainous region in Monroe County.
During the hearing, Charleston lawyer Bob Kiss, who represents Walnut Springs, asked Circuit Judge Robert Irons to strike the county commission’s response to his client’s petition and also asked the court to amend his petition.
“Something not right is occurring in Monroe County when, generally, real property is assessed at 38 percent of the fair market value and (our client’s) property is being assessed at 140 to 150 percent of fair market value,” Kiss said. “We want to make sure that everybody is being treated fairly.”
Kiss argued that his client’s property was “selected out for preferential treatment” by county officials and “there is evidence that our properties are valued at more than their fair market value.”
While lawyers for the county did not specifically address this issue at the hearing, Charleston lawyer John Hussell said parcels sold at Walnut Springs have “skewed” property values across the county and that is the “fundamental problem.”
During the board of equalization review in February, Hussell said, “for a period of some years, real property assessments were below where they should be in Monroe County.”
Hussell believes the Walnut Spring properties are being assessed fairly, even though the ratio between developed and undeveloped land in the county widely varies.
Kiss believes the system is inherently unfair because the same governing body, the county commission, which decides whether an increase in tax assessments is fair, also holds the purse strings for the county.