A series of assessment errors left hundreds of buildings across Petersburg undervalued, or not paying taxes at all, according to recent investigations publicly disclosed by the City of Petersburg Friday.
The scope of the problem was first discovered by City Attorney Brian Telfair, after one tip set an investigation in motion. A City employee directed Telfair's attention to an unusual property on the tax rolls, with an assessment that was believed to be a mistake.
"The land was set at a particular value, but the building was assessed at zero," Telfair said in an interview Friday. "I found it to be odd… but there was no exemption granted by the City Council."
The alleged errors happened while former City Assessor Randy Rush was still in office. Rush resigned four weeks ago, after City Council placed him on administrative leave.
In a phone interview Friday, Rush said that he had no comment on the assessments in question, until Petersburg's full investigation has concluded. However, Rush said that his lawyers would ask to look at Petersburg's tax rolls themselves, if Rush is found to be at fault.
Rush was first appointed by the City Council in 2006. The first mention of assessment irregularities became known in early January 2014.
When asked how the alleged mistakes could have gone on for years, Telfair said there were no clear signs that exposed wrongdoing.
"If you don't want someone to know something, you can sort of shield the individuals from the information," Telfair said. "It becomes quite an easy task to do."
Telfair said the unpaid taxes could reach into seven figures. Up to 500 buildings do not have tax I.D. numbers, meaning they may be erroneously left off the tax rolls.
The City Attorney could not comment whether or not he believed any misconduct was involved.
Every single structure in Petersburg will now be reassessed, meaning home and business owners could pay higher taxes in the future.
Petersburg will not seek the full recovery of back taxes, allowed up to three years, if business owners with underpaid property taxes come forward. It is unclear at this stage of the City's investigation whether residential properties are part of the low assessments.
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