Rutherford County is taking a closer look at its budget after losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue.
A significant amount of revenue is owed to taxpayers following hundreds of appeals on property appraisals.
"We had 744. We're down to about 20 left," County Property Assessor Rob Mitchell said of the claims made against the county beginning in 2010.
The properties associated with the claims were mostly commercial. Property owners with BFI and General Mills were among the complainants.
As a result of the appeal process, the state ordered the county to refund money on all 744 claims.
According to the county trustee, between July and December 2012, taxpayers were refunded $610,090, money earmarked to various county funds.
That total does not include $443,884 returned to the Embassy Suites and Conference Center, money initially collected through the Industrial Development Board and allocated to the county's general fund.
The county was not aware of the errors in assessed property values until the appeals were made.
When asked what caused the problem, the newly elected property assessor, in office since September 2012, fell short of blaming his predecessor.
"How it got that way, I don't really know," Mitchell said. "I just know there was an issue. Seven hundred and forty-four issues. So, that's why I'm here to try to get it fixed."
The burden of returning the money also falls on county leaders, and could hurt future taxpayers.
"If you give back monies, somebody else has to find a way to replenish that money that's been given back to this individual. Other individuals will have to offset that at some point," said County Mayor Ernest Burgess.
Burgess worries about the impact on next year's budget.
"Anytime we have less revenue, we have to find a way to offset that, either by raising the property taxes or reducing expenditures somehow," he said.
He added, "There's not a whole lot we can cut back on, and we have any number of pressing needs that have been postponed and put off that might increase our expenditures. I think it's fair to say we're concerned we're going to have a really difficult time matching revenues to expenditures."
While continuing to process the appeals and return money owed, the focus is also on the next countywide property appraisal.
"We're working very hard to make sure that our next one, that comes up in 2014, is going to be an accurate reflection of economic indicators that we have for the county, as well as what is on the property," said Mitchell.
The county continues to process the remaining settled claims. The total of those claims is not yet known.