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State court upholds tax dispute ruling

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that essentially dismissed an appeal by a local taxpayer group locked in litigation with the county board of assessors over a 2007 property revaluation.

Some members of the Dougherty County Taxpayer's Association and its chairman Richard Thomas, have been suing Dougherty County Tax Director Denver Hooten and the county board of assessors trying to get the tax digest from 2007 thrown out over what they contend was a fatally flawed assessment process that prompted tax bills to jump on properties throughout the county.

Dougherty County Commissioners learned of the decision during their work session Monday, although the letter that was sent was dated July 15.

According to that letter written by Appellate Court Judge Edward Johnson and affirmed by Chief Judge Yvette Miller and Presiding Judge Herbert Phipps, the evidence presented supports the decision made by the lower court, that no reversible error was made to warrant the decision be overturned and that the court had adequately explained its decision.

The court was considering an appeal by the taxpayer group of a superior court judge's decision not to allow an appeal of an amended complaint whose original version was dismissed by the court of appeals and denied by the Georgia Supreme Court.

Despite losing the court battle, Thomas said there's a slight victory to be had through the passage of a sweeping property tax reform bill that passed both houses of the General Assembly this year.

"Yes, we failed in the court system, but by shining a light on county commissions (Dougherty county in particular) who were unwilling to reconsider these outrageous assessments that were burdening this small minority of citizens, the Legislature listened to our pleas and took action," Thomas wrote in an e-mail to The Herald Monday evening. "Although it is a victory for a small group of concerned citizens who gave of their time and money to 'fight city hall,' it is extremely sad that the citizens who were denied their constitutional administrative process locally, had to enlist the state of Georgia Legislature to formally mandate a state statute that would assure and protect the rights of Dougherty County and other citizens of Georgia.

"Our seven county commissioners have the 'black eye' in this matter, and should be ashamed," he added.

The taxpayer's association could appeal the Appellate Court's decision to the Georgia Supreme Court, but there was no immediate word Monday if they would pursue that option.