WSAZ INVESTIGATES: Are Bad Records Costing You Money?

By: Jennifer Rizzi Email
By: Jennifer Rizzi Email

LINCOLN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- If you think you're paying too much in property taxes, officials say you could be right.

When Jesse Mullins checked his property records at the Lincoln County Courthouse, he never imagined what he would uncover.

"You need good records," he said.

Mullins bought a piece of property three years ago at a sheriff's tax sale but now can't prove that he owns it, thanks to problems in the property books.

"I think the courthouse should have the responsibility of making sure they've got good deed work and that no-faults deeds are filed," he said.

Mullins says he discovered a messy and poorly-written property history, full of inconsistencies and doctored deeds. investigated and found sale dates recorded out of order, along with others on notarized documents altered with pen.

Mullins also says others had been claiming ownership of his property and even paying taxes on it for much less than he was.

We dug deeper and talked to assessor Josh Brumfield, who says it's just one example of many in a tax system prone to problems.

"It's not uncommon for someone to come in and say they're paying too much for taxes," he said. "And if they think that, they usually are."

Brumfield says he found and changed more than 20 incorrect tax codes after Mullins spoke up about his discovery.

He says in a county with limited resources and lots of land, officials depend on you to point out problems.

"We rely on landowners," Brumfield said. "If you change residences, that changes classifications. So if people want accuracy, they have to provide us with information."

We wanted to know how many others in the county are affected by a system plagued by poor bookkeeping. Officials told there's no easy way to tell.

"It would be great to know if this was the only deed in Lincoln County that was vague and hard to determine boundary lines with," Brumfield said.

County Clerk Direl Baker blames most of the errors on an antiquated bookkeeping system.

"Everything's handwritten, and I think that leaves more room for mistakes to be made," he said.

It's a system that now leaves Mullins feeling victimized for following the rules.

"You need to be confident that your deeds and information kept by the courthouse is intact," he said. "And that it's not being converted into something else."

Mullins says he's pursuing legal action to fight for his property.

Officials tell they're looking at new technology to cut down on record-keeping errors.

If you have questions about your property or how much you pay in taxes, you're encouraged to contact the assessor's office.

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