Monday, August 11, 2014

FEATURED STORY >> Almost half century of service

Leader staff writer

Retiring Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines swore in Jacksonville realtor Jim Peacock for his 48th year on the Pulaski County Equalization Board during recent meeting at the county’s administration building in Little Rock.

Other members of the board were also sworn in, including Jurdon (Bud) Perry of Jacksonville, who has served for 27 years. Peacock said Friday was the last time Villines would swear in the board’s members.

The local realtor, who was also elected as chairman of the Equalization Board, confirmed that he has served the longest term on the board.

The board performs a check-and-balance function for the county assessor’s office, he explained.

The Board of Equalization, in session from Aug. 1 until Oct. 1 every year, hears appeals from taxpayers who believe the assessed value of their property should be different from what the assessor’s office determined it to be.

This year’s deadline to request an appeal hearing is Aug. 18. The board has a representative in the assessor’s office who fields calls about scheduling those hearings.
Peacock explained that, during its session, the board becomes the assessor. Members have control of the books for those two months.

The assessor’s office can’t change values during the board’s session unless there is an error that needs to be corrected, Peacock said.

How much a person pays in property taxes is based on those assessed values.

The board can split into three committees and hear appeals from 50 people in one day, the realtor noted. It is busiest during an assessment year, when values see the most significant changes.
The most recent assessment year was 2012, and the assessments are on a five-year rotation, Peacock said.

The board can also direct the assessor’s office to reassess the value of a neighborhood based on how much homes there are selling for.

The assessor’s office can appeal the board’s decisions to the circuit court, but that hasn’t happened since Peacock been on the board.
The realtor said Jacksonville Mayor John Harden appointed him to the board in 1966.
Back then, the members met in the basement of the county courthouse building. Their meeting room was always filled with cigar smoke, Peacock recalled.
Now they meet in the administration building a couple of doors down. With every new location the board moved to over the years, the realtor said meetings became more accessible to the public.
Another change Peacock has seen is that the board doesn’t look at personal property as often as it did in the beginning. The number of personal property appeals decreased to just two or three a year after guidelines were put in place, he said.
Every once in a while, a taxpayer will argue about the value of their used vehicle and the board will consult a used car dealer to see if the assessed value should be adjusted, Peacock noted.
The realtor said, now, most of the appeals that go to the board concern residential, commercial and industrial properties, and in that order from the most to least frequent.
Peacock also said he has served on the board under five judges and alongside three assessors.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a good working relationship with all the assessors since I’ve been on here,” he added.

Villines was the longest-serving judge he worked under, the realtor noted.

About the board, Peacock said he stuck around for so long because “I liked it. It was interesting. It kept me abreast of changes in value in real estate in the whole county.

“That was my business. It was just like a school. You learned what was going on in different parts. You learned where values were going up, where values were static, where values were going down. It just kept me abreast of the real estate market, free of charge.”

One of the toughest decisions the board has made concerned a recent appeal for a residential property in the western part of the county.

Peacock explained that the homeowner would not allow the assessor’s office to take measurements. All that office had to judge value from was information provided by the real estate agent who sold the property. But the new owner disagreed with the assessment that was based on that information. He appealed to the board.

The board based its decision on an appraisal and survey the homeowner’s attorney brought before the members during an appeal hearing.

Peacock said the decision was difficult because “when you don’t have accurate figures, it puts a real burden on, not only the board, to make a quality decision, but on the assessor.”
The realtor also reminisced about an unusual appeal involving a well-known surgeon who had bought a house in a “premier” neighborhood.

The doctor thought the assessed value of his property was much lower than the assessor’s determination. He invited the board inside his 5,000-square-foot house to make his case.
“He had a table and a chair and a coffee pot and a spoon, a fork and a knife and a plate. And that was it. And he bought that at the Salvation Army or Goodwill…So his assessment was accurate,” Peacock said.

He later learned that the doctor was a divorced bachelor.

Peacock said, while taxpayers can invite the board to their properties, it’s rare. “If they’re somewhere close (to the assessor’s value), we take their word for it.”

He also described some of the people he met while on the board, individuals who made an impression on him.

Former board member Julian Alexander, a Jewish businessman who owned a laundry mat, was one standout.

Peacock said he suspected Alexander was a refugee who came to the U.S. during World War II, but Alexander never talked about his past.

Peacock said he remembers the former board member’s extensive knowledge of the older part of the county and for his life philosophy, which was “you always start out the morning with a smile and a prayer.”

Peacock also remembered Redding Stevenson, a former board member and past president of the Pulaski County Board of Realtors. Stevenson, Peacock explained, inspired him to become president of the Board of Realtors.

In 1978, when Peacock was chairman of the Equalization Board and president of the realtors board, he was shot five times by a gunman who terrorized his realty office one day. The shooter has since passed away, the realtor said.

Peacock also said current board member Buster Bennett is another standout, being a self-made man who invented a machine that finds gold, oil and gas underground.

The realtor said Bennett is in negotiations with the federal government to sell the machine, which also detects gunpowder from three miles away and somehow makes clouds disappear.

Peacock added that he didn’t believe the machine dissipated clouds until he saw it do just that after a board meeting one day.