Property Tax

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Republican Gov. Bob Riley says Alabama law required his administration to start annual property reappraisals that are generating millions more in tax revenue.

But two of his opponents say he's reading the law wrong.

"That is just hogwash," says former Gov. Don Siegelman.

Siegelman, a Democrat, and former Chief Justice Roy Moore, a Republican, are campaigning for governor next year on a promise to reverse annual property reappraisals and return Alabama to its old system of reappraising property every four years.

Riley's communications director, Jeff Emerson, says state law requires property taxes to be assessed annually on October First, and the law says the taxes must be based on the property's "fair market value."

He says the only legal way to accomplish that is to reappraise the property every year to determine its fair market value.

In March of 2003, two months after Riley took office, his state revenue commissioner, Dwight Carlisle, approved regulations to change Alabama from doing property reappraisals every four years to annually.

The change is being phased in, with 30 counties -- including all of Alabama's urban centers, making the change so far.

The change, after subtracting the cost of implementation, should generate an extra $448 million in tax revenue through 2010, according to the state Revenue Department's estimates.

That increase would provide $138.8 million to county governments, $171.5 million to schools, $83.3 million to city governments, and $54.4 million to the state.

The increased collections come from the typical property owner's appraisal going up some each year, rather than taking a jump every four years.

Alabama started reappraising property every four years because of a 1971 court case that found some property had gone for decades without be reappraised.

Siegelman and Moore, who are both attorneys, said nothing in that court decision and nothing in state law mentions annual reappraisals or supports Riley's view.

Lewis Easterly, secretary of the state Revenue Department and a high-ranking merit system employee whose job doesn't change from one administration to the next, said he agrees with Riley's interpretation of state law.