Funny money turning up
• More than a dozen bills have surfaced in the last few months leading one department to sponsor a class on detection for businesses
By Ben Nelms
Some people are always looking for an easy way to make money. And for a few, the idea of making their own is appealing, but the result is a loss for everyone else.
Counterfeit money has surfaced sporadically in Jefferson and Glascock counties during the past several months and law enforcement officers say merchants should be careful to take precautions not to be taken in. Some of the bills recovered are nearly impossible to spot without the use of a detection pen, while others have an appearance that would make Monopoly money look good.
The bogus bills once came in the form of $100's, officers and bank officials say. But these days more wary counterfeiters have turned to denominations that are less likely to be scrutinized. In past months everything from $5's to $50's have surfaced locally, usually at convenience stores, grocery stores and fast food outlets. Now days, it is the phony substitute for the ubiquitous $20 bill that merchants most often find loitering in their cash registers, mingling with the real thing.
A check of banks and police departments in both counties reveals that more than a dozen bills have surfaced in the past few months. With few exceptions, they were $20's.
"The reason $20 bills show up so much is because they are convenient, they are not usually checked as closely and so many of them are handled," said Regions Bank Manager Doug O'Steen.
First State Security Officer Dale Harris added that counterfeit bills also tend to show up at convenience and fast food stores during times of the year such as the summer vacation season and holidays when large numbers of people are traveling.
In an effort to help store owners avoid getting stuck with the not so funny money, Wrens Police Chief David Hannah said his office is putting together a class for businesses in the detection of counterfeit money.
Store employees that have suspicions about money they have received should contact their local police department, said Louisville Police Chief Jimmy Miller. And if detected and the person passing the fake bill flees, store employees should attempt to get the license number and a general description of the vehicle, Miller said.
Jefferson County evaluating all property values
• High-end property sales drive up values in area, assessor says
By Ben Nelms
Land prices in Jefferson County are continuing to rise. And those increases have led to the need to revalue property countywide in order to stay within state-mandated tolerance ranges.
All property categories are in process of being revaluated. These include large and small tract agricultural land, residential, commercial and industrial property, said Tax Assessor George Rachels.
Property tax assessments are based on 40 percent of the fair market value of a parcel. Rachels said the reason for the revaluation has to do with the fair market value of a parcel, or the price property actually sells for, falling at the low end of the 36-44 percent range accepted by the state Department of Revenue. Assessors statewide are charged with maintaining categories near 40 percent of fair market value, with an ideal tolerance level of 38-40 percent, said Rachels.
A total of 157 samples formed the basis of the percentages and led to an overall county percentage of 36.83. By category the survey included 121 residential samples, 22 large and small tract agricultural and 14 commercial and industrial sites. Large and small tract agricultural scored at 35.7 percent, commercial and industrial came in at 35.64 percent and residential at 40.11.
Rachels said the last total revaluation was done in 1999. Since that time agricultural land was revalued in 2002 and most commercial sites were done in 2003.
"We're going to reval again because sales dictate that we do it," Rachels said. "The market is continuing to increase the value of property in an upward spiral."
Rachels said that though residential property sits at 40.11, a complimentary measure of looking at fair market value, the coefficient of dispersion, is out of tolerance. The coefficient of dispersion tracks the ratio of sales price to the assessed price. That ratio, said Rachels, should have a tolerance of 1-15 points. But with current residential sales the ratio often varies 30 points or more.
Rachels said another reason to revalue residential property is due to the number of improvements owners have made to their property. Those improvements must be accounted for, he said, adding that a visit to the property does not automatically mean that the property will be assessed at greater value.
County appraisers began the revaluation process in mid-July. When they finish by the end of 2004, each of the nearly 11,000 parcels of land in the county, including 7,000-8,000 residences, will have been visited, said Rachels.
"It's the sales that drive the market," said Rachels. "We didn't think some of the appraised property was worth the price but people ended up getting their asking price so that price gets recorded."
What is occurring in the county is that higher prices paid for property results in an eventual drop in the overall percentage of the assessed value of property within the county, which leads to an overall drop in the property taxes generated. When the ratio drops below 36 percent it can trigger action from state departments that monitor property sales across the state. All property sales are recorded not only in the county where the sale occurred, but also in Atlanta. Any penalty eventually imposed by the state for being below the 36 percent threshold is required to be paid by the property owner.
The total value of all property in Jefferson County, known as the total digest, is $1,057,308,000. Forty percent of that amount, or $422,928,335, makes up the gross digest. The taxable digest is calculated after nearly $59 million in exemptions is figured in, said Rachels, leaving $364,141,507 subject to taxation.
Unknown to many residents is the volume of land throughout the county held in conservation. Rachels said 52 percent of the county's land is in conservation. That amounts to 171,788 acres out of a 330,058-acre countywide total. Tax dollars lost due to the conservation exemption total $1,003,564. That reduction, along with the elimination a few years ago of farm equipment, livestock and fruit and nut trees from the tax rolls places a greater tax burden on property owners.