State Says Assessor Undervalued Properties By $82M
Aug 28, 2012 10:40 PM
Ben Hall interviews Rhonda Chaffin
By Ben Hall Investigative Reporter
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- One day after a NewsChannel 5 investigation, the state is notifying some prominent Putnam County landowners they owe unpaid property taxes for the last three years.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates first reported that Putnam County Property Assessor Rhonda Chaffin left apartment buildings off the tax rolls.
Now the Tennessee Division of Property Assessment with the Comptroller's Office has determined that Chaffin's office undervalued properties by more than $82 million dating back to 2009.
In an interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates last week Chaffin said her office made one mistake.
We asked, "How are entire apartment complexes off the tax rolls?"
"One problem -- that's what we had," Chaffin said.
But now a state review has found not one, but nearly 200 properties that her office undervalued.
County Executive Kim Blaylock seemed stunned when we showed her some of the numbers. Among them, four separate properties Chaffin's office undervalued by more than $1 million in a single year.
"This is bad," Blaylock said. "If this is what happened, then it needs to be corrected and not happen anymore."
The state says Chaffin's office wrongly reduced the value of the Chelsea Apartments owned by Shirley Gaw by nearly $2.5 million a year dating back to 2009.
The county is about to send Gaw a notice that he owes more than $81,000 in taxes for the last three years, plus an additional $23,000 thousand dollars in late fees.
Our investigation discovered that Chaffin depreciated some buildings in the complex by as much as 70 percent.
In one case, a building -- that cost nearly $600,000 new -- was taxed as if the value was $101,000.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Chaffin last week, "They're buildings that have been depreciated by 60 to 70 percent?"
"Have you lived in them?" she responded.
"No," we said, "but they are rented."
Chaffin said, "They probably are, but not for no high rent."
One longtime renter said he has lived in the apartments 12 years and they're well maintained.
"It's wonderful -- they keep it in tip top shape," he said. "This is the number one place in Cookeville to live."
Two names dominate the list of properties that Chaffin's office undervalued. Members of the politically well-connected Gaw family own 100 of the properties. Landlord Charles Soard owns 75 of the properties.
The largest single undervalued property belongs Garry McNabb who is listed as a board member for Lottery Tennessee. Chaffin undervalued his apartment complex by more than $3 million in 2011 alone.
Last week,Chaffin insisted she had done nothing wrong.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, "Some of these properties look like they've been depreciated out an enormous amount."
"In your opinion," she countered.
"So you're saying there is nothing wrong with any of the depreciation?" we asked.
"No," Chaffin said.
The property owners have 60 days to appeal the reappraisals. This could generate $1 million in revenue for Putnam County.
However, no one is saying the property owners did anything wrong. They just paid the bill that was before them.