“We did not check the millage rate for the city of Roswell closely enough,” Fitzgibbon told council members. “Obviously we misplaced a decimal point.”
The error resulted in assessment notices with values that were 10 times higher than they should be, he acknowledged, adding “I sincerely apologize.”
But Mayor Jere Wood and council weren’t in the mood to merely accept Fitzgibbon’s apology. They want the tax assessor’s office to send postcards to affected residents telling them that the estimates they received were wrong and to take responsibility for the error.
“In Roswell, when we make a mistake, we try and correct it,” Wood said. But this isn’t Roswell’s mistake, he added.
To date, the city has fielded about 100 phone calls from unhappy citizens wanting to know what happened, according to City Administrator Kay Love.
Fitzgibbon said his office’s website posted a notice informing Roswell taxpayers about the mistake. He said that satisfies legal requirements and the assessments are only estimated values, not bills.
Not everyone who is affected is capable of accessing that digital information, Wood said. “The people who are most upset aren’t lawyers and tech people. They’re older people, people on fixed incomes who don’t understand the system.”
Fitzgibbon said it would cost around $9,000 to send out new notices and almost as much to print and mail postcards. He said both his budget and personnel have been reduced, making it more cost-efficient to get the word out through electronic and print media.
But he said reports he has seen about the incident have been wrong about at least one facet of the situation: there is no legitimate avenue of appeal of the incorrect notices, since they are simply estimates, not bills. “Any appeals filed on these will not be accepted,” Fitzgibbon said.
Council members weren’t mollified. In the big picture, shelling out $9,000 to explain and correct the mistake seems “minimal compared to the stress and strife caused,” said Councilwoman Betty Price. “Money is not the issue. Confusion is.”
Wood said he would like the county board of assessors, Fitzgibbon’s employers, to evaluate the situation and take the city’s request under consideration.
“I hope the BOA will do the right thing,” he said.
Roswell bills its property owners for municipal taxes and will be billing the correct amount.