By Jerry R. Griffin, Executive Director
Association County Commissioners Of Georgia
The following article is reprinted with permission from the March 1999 edition of Georgia County Government Magazine, published by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, the 85-year-old education, training and legislative advocacy organization of all 159 Georgia county governments. ACCG may be reached on the Web or by writing 50 Hurt Plaza, Suite 1000, Atlanta, Georgia 30303.
Every year hundreds of bills and resolutions are introduced to fix the property tax. So often a bill will focus on a very small section of the law and when examined carefully it is discovered that, rather than fixing a problem, it creates new problems.
Part of the problem results from legislators failing to recognize that the property tax bill that a property owner receives is based on a lot of actions involving many people.
There are two separate and distinct parts of the property tax system. The first is the determination of value. That function is performed by the Board of Tax Assessors and its appraisal staff.
The procedures that they must use are spelled out in great detail in state law adopted by the General Assembly. Their work is also reviewed by the state, which performs a study of sales of property in a given county. If the county’s values differ from the state’s data from sales, the county can be penalized.
Also included is the requirement that a reappraisal take place every three years. Obviously, to accomplish this task, particularly in a large county with thousands of parcels, the project is partially completed each year.
The work of the assessor is part science and part art. For some types of property, the job is relatively easy. The assessor can look at sales of comparable property, construction costs, location and assign a value.
For other properties the job can be much more difficult. Manufacturing facilities, specialized equipment, facilities that can only be used for a single purpose add to the challenge assessors face.
Once values are assigned, the taxpayer has an opportunity to dispute or challenge the values. The taxpayer can go before the Board of Equalization and even into court. Throughout, the county commission has nothing to do with the process.
Commissioners appoint the tax assessors, but they cannot remove them except for due cause.
Once values are established, a tax digest is prepared and forwarded to the state for approval.
If the digest values do not agree with the state’s sales/ratio study, the digest is not approved and the assessors have to fix the problem.
When the state finally approves the digest, the county commission, school board and city councils do their job of levying taxes based on the approved digest.
Before doing that they are required to have hearings and adopt the budget. Taxpayers have their opportunity here to make their wishes known about county programs.
Maybe the answer to some of the problems lies in education. Maybe the county commissioners should hold meetings county-wide and make sure everyone understands that there are two issues in question, as well as who is responsible for each.
It seems that the major concern is over the assessment of property. As long as the state refuses to finance education from its broad tax base and requires counties to match their assessments with the state-determined value, we will have problems and misunderstandings and the legislature will continue to try to pass piecemeal laws to correct problems.
In lieu of the current pseudo-solutions being proposed, maybe we should all try to work together, to clean up the mess.