PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Portsmouth City Council officially fired the city’s assessor on Tuesday night, two weeks after he shared the news that most city residents face a substantial tax hike due to increases in their real estate assessments if council doesn’t act.
Council voted 5-1 to fire Patrick Dorris, with Councilman Dr. Mark Whitaker voting against. Councilman De’Andre Barnes was absent after being escorted out of the council chamber earlier in the meeting over council rules regarding his streaming of meetings.
The vote comes after Councilman Bill Moody said on Monday, following a closed session of council, that Dorris would be fired.
Mayor Shannon Glover and other members of council declined to elaborate on Dorris’ firing on Tuesday, calling it a personnel matter. Moody, though, in a previous council session on Feb. 28, chided Dorris after Dorris said was still having issues with staffing levels and the implementation of a new assessor system.
Before his no vote Tuesday, Whitaker indicated that Dorris’ firing didn’t seem to be because council thought his assessments were inaccurate. He also alleged that Dorris “exposed” some tax issues “with some of the privileged persons” in the city.
Dorris, at that Feb. 28 meeting, tried to explain how the assessment process works. Under state code, assessments for real estate citywide, no matter than neighborhood, have to be at or near 100% of fair market value. And to get to around that 100% value, many home assessments had to increase significantly to meet state code compared to the previous assessment in 2022.
Homes in many areas of city have sold for much higher amounts than what they were previously appraised for, Norris said, due to overall national housing market trends, including inflation and interest rate increases. Other cities locally, such as Suffolk and Newport News, have faced similar overall percentage increases this year and in recent years, with some offering a change in tax rate to help residents.
Portsmouth, though, didn’t change its real estate tax rate in 2022 after a nearly 9% increase in assessments. Then came the 13% on average increase for 2023.
“I’ve had to reenter the workforce after retiring at 45 years,” said speaker Steve Carroll, who said his assessment went up $34,000 this year and says that, over the last three years, his assessment has gone up 21%. “And now it’s a good thing I did because I have to pay my tax bill.”
Another speaker, Ursula Murphy, said her property’s assessment on Elmhurst Lane in the Manor View area has gone up $50,000 in two years.
“I have not added onto my property, I have not improved my property,” Murphy said, “nor have I struck oil on my property. … I’m not happy.”
Murphy emphasized that many seniors in the city and others on fixed income will struggle to pay their assessment bill if the tax rate doesn’t change.
So what help will residents see?
WAVY asked several members of council what they plan to do. Council members Mark Hugel and Vernon Tillage, Jr. said they were looking into either lowering the tax rate or providing a tax rebate for relief.
Moody said he’ll “consider anything to lessen the tax burden on our citizens.”
“People are suffering and we’ve got to figure out a way to operate the city and take care our commitments, but also look out for our citizens,” he added.
Look for a clearer picture on possible relief in the coming weeks as city leaders finalize the city’s budget.
In the meantime, council has appointed Janey Culpepper as interim city assessor, with a $120,000 salary. Whitaker was again the lone no vote. Culpepper has previously served as Portsmouth’s city assessor and also served in Suffolk as a deputy city assessor.
Check with WAVY.com for updates.