The Gwinnett County tax commissioner’s office is bracing for what is expected to be a huge surge in appeals of motor vehicle valuations this year, a result of a change in state law that took effect last week requiring a one-time fee for title transfers.
Gwinnett’s Chief Appraiser Steve Pruitt said he expects between 3,500 and 5,000 appeals over the next 12 months, compared to the 100 to 120 his office normally processes in any given year. That’s because people transferring title must pay 6.5 percent of the “fair market value” assigned to the vehicle by the state.
Those most likely to appeal have purchased a used car, either from a dealer or from a private individual.
The state assigns the value of the vehicle based on a manual such as Kelley Blue Book, not the sales price. And those values are based on an assumption that the vehicle has average miles and is in average condition for its age.
Pruitt said anyone contesting that valuation will have to provide photographs of the vehicle or bring it in for an inspection.
“We just don’t have the staff to meet with taxpayers,” Pruitt said. “But we want to make it an easy process to file an appeal.”
To help, Gwinnett commissioners on Tuesday approved a $175,000 contract with an outside contractor that will process the appeals there. Commissioners grumbled that the new law amounts to an “unfunded mandate” that counties now have to meet, and that the appeals are of state valuations, not the county’s work.
The contract says the company, LMC Inc., will respond to all phone calls and correspondence related to appeals and provide the recommended values for all vehicles under appeal. The company will be paid $38 for every case handled.
“If we don’t get the appeals, we won’t spend the money,” Pruitt said.
Other counties aren’t expecting such a radical increase in the number of appeals.
Stephen D. White, chief appraiser in Cobb County, said his office is expecting to see “some (additional) appeals” as a result of the new law, but they’ve added just one part-time employee to help process them. White said Cobb doesn’t have an estimate for the number of additional appeals because “this is a completely new process to all.”
Likewise, Fulton County isn’t expecting a huge increase, said Dewayne Pinkney, administrator in the Fulton County Tax Assessor’s Office. Pinkney said a few additional staff have been added.
“We’re not really expecting a lot more, but we’re planning for it just in case,” he said.