The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Spotsy official sues county over assessment
PLANNING COMMISSIONER SAYS 22.5 PERCENT BUMP IN PROPERTY’S VALUE
IS NOT WARRANTED
BY JEFF BRANSCOME
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Spotsylvania Planning Commissioner Richard Thompson is taking the county to court over a 22.5 percent increase in his real estate assessment.
Thompson, who was appointed to the Planning Commission this year by Courtland District Supervisor David Ross, filed a lawsuit seeking to have the 2012 assessed value of his land reduced from $355,600 to its previous appraisal of $290,200.
That’s a difference of $65,400 for the undeveloped, 101-acre parcel in an agricultural zone west of the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield park.
Spotsylvania issues new assessments every two years, and this year’s overall residential real estate values dropped by about 2 percent. Assessments are based on how much the property would sell for.
But Thompson claims a county assessor hasn’t been able to document the sale of property similar to his to prove his land’s fair market value.
His previous appeal to the county Board of Equalization was turned down earlier this year, he said.
“I’m convinced no one has ever gone out and looked at this property,” said Thompson, who is serving as his own attorney.
His lawsuit—which the county is requesting be dismissed—came in the form of a letter he filed with Spotsylvania Circuit Court in July. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 15.
Thompson called his property off Hancock Road a “beautiful piece of land” that abuts the Po River, but said there’s not much he can do with it.
There’s no county water and sewer connection, he said, and potential development is restricted by wetlands and the river.
He said he used to own a home on an adjacent 25 acres, but sold it in 1995.
Spotsylvania Commissioner of the Revenue Deborah Williams declined to comment on the case.
Michael Lockaby, an attorney from Fairfax County, filed a response last month on behalf of Spotsylvania, asking that the suit be dismissed because of procedural issues with Thompson’s complaint.
Lockaby noted that Thompson’s letter does not name a defendant—a requirement in civil cases. It is also not presented in numbered paragraphs—another requirement—he wrote.
Spotsylvania hired outside counsel because the county attorney’s office represents Thompson in his capacity as a planning commissioner. County Attorney Jacob Stroman said he thinks it’s important for his office to prevent the appearance of impropriety.
“The best way to achieve that is to have outside counsel represent the county,” he said. “And while I don’t relish the expense of doing so, preventing the appearance of impropriety is far more important than the relatively modest fees that the county will incur by engaging outside counsel.”
So far, the county has paid law firm Greehan, Taves, Pandak & Stoner about $1,700 for its representation, Stroman said.
Thompson criticized the county for spending money to fight a complaint that would result in a decrease of only $575 to his annual tax bill if a judge sides with him.
“It’s a lot of money for me,” he said.
The next assessment will be in 2014.
Thompson had to pay $236 to file his complaint, which he called a hardship in his letter to Spotsylvania Circuit Court.
He said the land has been in his family off and on since 1868, and he doesn’t have plans to sell it.
“It’s just part of my heritage,” he said.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402