The county assessor's duties include two basic functions: appraisal and assessment of taxable real and personal property in the county that is not appraised by the state.1For purposes of ad valorem taxation of property, the assessor of property places a value on commercial, industrial, residential, and farm land, including mineral rights and taxable leaseholds, but public utility property is valued by the state.2The assessor also appraises and assesses taxable tangible personal property.3The assessor must assess and place a value on all property in the county by May 20 of the tax year. The date of valuation is as of January 1 (with the exception of adjustments due to improvements or damage to property discussed later). The assessment of property within a municipality is to be completed not less than 40 days prior to the beginning tax due date of the municipality.4The validity of an assessment is generally not affected by any irregularity or omission unless the defect results in a denial of minimum constitutional guarantees.5
The county legislative body has the authority to enter into contracts with individuals, firms, or corporations to render advice or assistance to the local tax assessor and the local board of equalization in the assessment and equalization of taxes. However, the final decision as to the amount of an assessment or the equalization of assessments is to be made by the property assessor and the board of equalization. In addition, no such contract shall contain any provisions for payment for services on a percentage basis, or on any basis whereby the compensation under the contract is dependent or conditioned on increasing or reducing the aggregate assessment of property in the county.6
County assessors are responsible for city assessments except in cities lying in more than one county, which are entitled to retain a city assessor or to contract with the county assessor or State Board of Equalization for assessment services. Cities not using the county assessor are also required to establish a city board of equalization. Otherwise, review of city assessments is consolidated under the county board of equalization of the county in which the property is located.7
Assessors are required to keep current indexes of taxpayers, along with a description of the property on the tax books, and to maintain the property tax maps of the county.8The obligation to pay taxes is not avoided by the failure of an assessor to make an assessment.9 The assessor is not required to search for an owner's address to send assessment notices; rather, the owner has a responsibility to register his or her name and address with the assessor.10Previously owners who were not in possession of the property were required to file an annual statement with the assessor between December 1 and December 31 of each year, and the trustee was required to publish a notice of this requirement. However, this provision was deleted by a 1996 amendment; neither the form nor the published notice is now required by current law.
The assessor has the power and duty to examine any person he or she believes has any information relating to the property assessment of any taxpayer. Pursuant to this power, the assessor may administer oaths and compel any witness to appear and to answer oral or written questions. Any witness refusing to appear or to take an oath or answer questions, when called upon by the assessor to do so, commits a Class C misdemeanor. The assessor also has the authority to go upon land to obtain information for the assessment of property. Specifically, the assessor may enter a building which is under construction and not yet occupied or secured without obtaining the consent of the owner. After the building is occupied or secured, the assessor may enter with the owner’s consent, or if consent is unreasonably denied, under a court order.11
The assessor is to make a report of the assessor's assessments and make available to the local board of equalization all of the assessor's records pertaining to the area involved on or before the first day the board meets. Each assessor, when making the report of assessments to the local board of equalization shall accompany the report with the following oath:
I, , assessor of the county (city) of , State of Tennessee, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I have assessed all taxable property, in the county (city) of , as far as ascertainable, to the true owners thereof, and that I have determined the classification and assessed valuation of all taxable property as prescribed by law; and that I have faithfully discharged all my duties without fear, favor, or affection to the best of my knowledge and ability, so help me God.
The oath shall be taken and subscribed to before the county mayor, or in the county mayor's absence, before a notary public.12
In addition to the report to the local board of equalization, the assessor has a duty to compile a report listing the total of all assessments prepared by the assessor's office and file the report with the State Board of Equalization.13
An assessor of property or deputy assessor who willfully fails, refuses, or neglects to perform, obey, and observe his/her statutory duties is subject to sanctions as set out in T.C.A. § 67-5-305.
It is unlawful for an assessor of property or deputy assessor to willfully or knowingly assess property in the wrong name, omit property from assessment, assess property at lower than the proper percentage of value, or to fail to perform other duties required by law. A district attorney general who receives evidence of such an offense has the duty to investigate and prosecute that offense.14
1T.C.A. §§ 67-5-101, 67-5-102, 67-5-301 et seq., 67-5-502(1), 67-5-601 et seq., 67-5-1301. T.C.A. § 67-1-501 et seq. deals with the qualifications and office of the assessor.
2T.C.A. §§ 67-5-502(d), 67-5-801 et seq., 67-5-1001 et seq., 67-5-1301.
3T.C.A. § 67-5-901 et seq.
4T.C.A. § 67-5-504.
5T.C.A. § 67-5-509(b); see also State v. Delinquent Taxpayers, 785 S.W.2d 819, 821 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1989).
6T.C.A. § 67-5-507.
7T.C.A. § 67-1-513.
8T.C.A. §§ 67-5-804 through 67-5-806. See also 23 Tenn. Juris. "Taxation" § 32 (1998) for a discussion regarding "adequate description."
9State v. Nashville C. & St. L. Ry., 137 S.W.2d 297, 299 (Tenn. 1940).
10Cook v. McCullough, 735 S.W.2d 464 (Tenn.Ct.App. 1987); T.C.A. § 67-5-2502(b).
11T.C.A. § 67-5-303.
12T.C.A. § 67-5-304.
13T.C.A. § 67-5-304(c)(1) and (2).
141T.C.A. 67-5-306; Op. Tenn. Atty Gen. 83-388 (November 11, 1983); See also: Op. Tenn. Atty Gen. 83-233 (June 27, 1983); Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 83-53 (February, 14 1983).