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With values down, homeowners swamp assessors

LAWRENCEVILLE - Not long ago, few people would willingly place their home in a position to be reassessed.

In a place where growth kept land values booming, less than 1,000 homeowners would file real property tax returns each year, telling assessors what they believe their home is worth.

This year, though, with foreclosures and a stagnant market causing home values to drop, more than 12,000 homeowners have asked that their properties be reassessed - and they believe the values should be decreased an average 25 percent.

Steve Pruitt, Gwinnett's chief assessor, said his office will send 75,000 notices of reassessment next month. That includes the 12,451 residential reassessments and another 1,925 for commercial reassessment requested by the owner.

The appeals process this year could swamp his office, as he expects at least 14,000 appeals - more than double the 2008 amount.

The deadline to file a reassessment request was March 1.

It's a sign of the times, Pruitt said, during a briefing to commissioners Tuesday.

"It's the same process we've done each year," he said. "The difference is the values are down this year. ... There's going to be some gnashing of teeth."

Pruitt said the people who have asked for their assessments to go down will likely be fulfilled, as long as the request is reasonable.

While the county's property tax digest has not been determined, Pruitt said the amount isn't likely to rise for the first time in decades.

With growth virtually halted - only 1,000 single-family building permits in all of 2008 - the county's taxable property value is not likely to go up. But officials have already said millage rates would likely rise to balance the county budget and put more police officers on the street.

Officials will consider the millage rate this summer, as property tax bills are due to be mailed July 15.