Assess this: Woodzell takes heat for housing hikes


He's been threatened with physical harm. He's had a woman nearly slam his office door off its hinges.

Like clockwork, every two years, when county property owners get their ever-soaring real estate reassessments and want to complain, they call Albemarle Assessor Bruce Woodzell's office.

So Woodzell knows what to expect. But this time was a record. Over a two-year period, the average property value shot up 27.2 percent.

"We just let them talk to us and speak their mind, and we invite them to come to the office," says Woodzell. "We have a lot of data, and we verify that the information we have is correct. Some question the value of their property. Some question the system– they just don't like the system."

Albemarle native Woodzell has been involved in real estate all his life. His father sold it, but he advised young Bruce to make a living another way.

After graduating from JMU (in the days when it was called Madison College) and then working a stint in retail, in 1981 Woodzell came to work in the county's real estate office. He was appointed assessor in 1988.

The job comes with perks. In addition to getting County Office Building windows with views of Preston Avenue, Wendy's, and Bodo's, he can get in almost any house in the county.

"I get to see a lot of unique properties," says Woodzell, mentioning the digs of luminaries like Patricia Kluge and John Grisham.

Note to property owners: You don't have to let the real estate appraiser in your house– but you can't keep them off your property. "We do have an inherent right to be on the property to see what it looks like," says Woodzell.

And every two years, "we try to put our feet on every improved property," he adds. "Now, if you have 300 acres, we're not going to walk that." But the department will take advantage of aerial photographs to check for signs of improvements.

Since the new assessments went out, appraisers have been getting about 30 calls a day. Taxpayers who don't get satisfaction from talking to the assessor's office can plead their cases to the Board of Equalization, which is made up of six county citizens.

The board can lower an assessment– but may also decide to raise it. And if that doesn't work, there's always circuit court.

Woodzell has faced three lawsuits in 20 years. "The court has the precedent that the assessor is correct," he warns those thinking of litigation. "The burden of proof is on them."

Woodzell wants to clear up a couple of misconceptions about the assessor. For one, the tax rate doesn't change based on what the county's budget is. Another: although the average increase is 27.2 percent, some assessments may go up 40 percent, others only 10 percent.

And for the record, how much did Woodzell's assessment go up? "Don't ask that," he pleads, before conceding the information is, after all, a public record and confessing: 13.8 percent, the average for his Raintree neighborhood. He adds that a vacant parcel of land he owns went up 50 percent.

As for the spiraling cost of Albemarle real estate, "It's not just here," Woodzell points out, listing Nelson, Louisa, Greene, and Northern Virginia as sharing in the phenomenal recent spike.

In fact, the only solution for those determined to avoid ever increasing property values may be Roanoke or Lynchburg, both of which are lagging behind Central Virginia's hot, hot market.

Age: 54

Why here? I'm a Martha Jefferson Hospital baby.

Worst about living here? Rio Road traffic

Favorite hangout? Saigon Café

Most overrated virtue? Power

People would be surprised to know: I ran into a little problem with the campus police when I was in college.

What would you change about yourself? I wish I could sing.

Proudest accomplishment? I served as president of the Virginia Association of Assessing Officers.

People find most annoying about you: I can be impatient.

Whom do you admire? The American population identified as the Greatest Generation

Favorite book? Anything written by Clive Cussler

Subject that causes you to rant? Ranters and ravers

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Internet

Biggest 21st-century creep out? Identity theft

What do you drive? Ford Explorer

In your car CD player right now: Larry Garner's Once upon the Blues

 Next journey? Anchorage, Alaska

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? When does the statute of limitations expire?

Regret: Not buying an oceanfront lot for $25,000 in 1973

Comfort food: A one-eyed bacon cheeseburger

Always in your refrigerator: hot sauce

Must-see TV: Law and Order, CSI

 Favorite cartoon: Bugs Bunny

Describe a perfect day. Eighty-five degrees, sunny, cold Coronas, a good book, at Emerald Isle, NC

Walter Mitty fantasy: Playing a cowboy in a Clint Eastwood western

Who'd play you in the movie? Jon Voight

Most embarrassing moment? I couldn't find my marriage license the day of my wedding.

Best advice you ever got? Watch your pennies, and your dollars will take care of themselves.

Favorite bumper sticker? "Energizer Bunny arrested, charged with battery"

Bruce Woodzell