Judge Rusty Johnston signed an order Sept. 30 upholding a complaint by ThyssenKrupp against Mobile County Revenue Commissioner Marilyn Wood claiming it was improperly assessed for ad valorem tax twice in a single fiscal year and as a result, was asked to pay nearly twice what it owed. The assessment was not based on an error or duplication but rather, it was driven by Wood’s “gut feeling” or “woman’s intuition” that the first assessment was too low, according to the order.
The original complaint stated that the time period for ad valorem tax ran from Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2012, when the county initially assessed the property for $795,211. By allowing a 30-day deadline to expire without contesting the assessment, ThyssenKrupp agreed to pay that amount. But on Oct. 18, the corporation received a second assessment in the amount of $1,477,321.09.
Testimony in April revealed that Wood had made the “unilateral decision” to re-assess the property without legitimate cause and using a method inconsistent with state law. The Alabama Department of Revenue requires counties to follow the Property Tax Plan for Equalization, which mandates the use of the Alabama Appraisal Manual, a requirement reinforced by a 2003 court order specific to Mobile County. Wood was appointed Revenue Commission in 2001 and is currently serving her second six-year term.
Wood’s second assessment utilized the Marshall and Swift manual, which county appraiser Roger Welch testified he had never previously used, and ThyssenKrupp was the only industrial property evaluated with the manual. Neither Welch nor state valuation analyst Marcus Bailey testified to any errors with the original valuation or assessment.
According to the order, “This case turns on two questions, both of which must be answered ‘yes’ for the defendants’ second assessment to stand: (1) Did the defendants establish an ‘error’ in the first assessment that legally justified the County’s decision to issue the second assessment?; (2) Was the County’s use of the Marshall and Swift Manual to re-appraise the ThyssenKrupp property, when it used the different Alabama Appraisal Manual for every other industrial property in Mobile County, consistent with the ‘tax equality’ and ‘consistent methodology’ requirements under the law?”
As a result of the order, the county was forced to refund ThyssenKrupp $682,109.89. Property tax is Mobile County’s largest source of revenue behind sales tax, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the annual budget. County attorney Jay Ross was not immediately available to discuss whether the decision would be appealed. Wood did not return a call seeking a comment.