The D.C. Department of Finance and Revenue's plan to pay a private real estate appraiser $300,000 this year to provide expert testimony in contested property assessment cases in D.C. Superior Court drew fire yesterday from two members of the City Council.
John Wilson (D-Ward 2) and Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) complained during a budget hearing that the department was spending too much for outside consultants while failing to hire enough appraisers to do an adequate job of assessing residential and commercial property.
The council members also complained that the contract with Anthony Reynolds, a local appraiser who specializes in hotels and commercial property, was awarded without competitive bidding.
"So now we have to pay $300,000 for someone to testify that what we did is appropriate," said Wilson, chairman of the budget committee.
Melvin W. Jones, director of the finance and revenue department, testified yesterday that Reynolds' services are needed because of the recent surge in court challenges to D.C. commercial property assessments.
The District increased commercial assessments by an average of 40 percent to 50 percent for the 1985 tax year in an effort to bring the assessments close to the true market value.
Some officials contend that the District stands a better chance of winning in court by offering the testimony of an "independent" real estate appraiser instead of presenting the testimony of a city assessor or official of the D.C. Board of Equalization and Review.
However, Kane said that the city's priorities are mixed up because it spends relatively little to ensure that the initial assessment is accurate, while spending an inordinate amount to try to sustain the assessment before the Board of Equalization and Review and in the courts.
The department of finance employs only 42 persons to annually assess the city's commercial and residential property. Samuel C. Reynolds, chairman of the Board of Equalization and Review, said yesterday that the city needs 250 assessors to do an adequate job.
"We don't have nearly enough assessors," he said.
The department signed a three-year contract with Reynolds in May 1984 to provide expert testimony, according to Jones. The city paid Reynolds $30,000 last year and expects to pay him about $300,000 this year, because of the sudden crush of court cases.
Jones urged the City Council to approve additional funds in the current fiscal 1985 budget to cover the cost of that contract, as well as $50,000 for a contract to review unclaimed property and $45,000 for a pilot microcomputer system.