Ad valorem tax, more commonly known as property tax, is large source of revenue for local governments in Georgia. The basis for ad valorem taxation is the fair market value of the property which is established as of January 1 each year. The tax is levied on the assessed value of the property which, by law, is established at 40% of fair market value. The amount of tax is determined by the tax rate (mill rate) levied by various entities (one mill is equal to $1.00 for each $1,000 of assessed value or .001).
Several distinct entities are involved in the ad valorem tax process:
Taxpayers are required to file at least an initial tax return for taxable property (both real and personal property) owned on January 1st of the tax year. In Laurens County the time for filing returns is January 2nd through April 1st. These returns are filed with the Tax Commissioner and forms are available in that office. The tax return is a listing of the property owned by the taxpayer and the taxpayer’s declaration of the value of the property.
Once the initial tax return is filed, the law provides for an automatic renewal of that return each succeeding year at the value finally determined for the preceding year and the taxpayer is required to file a new return only as additional property is acquired, improvements are made to existing property, or other changes occur. A new return, filed during the return period, may also be made by the taxpayer to declare a different value from the existing value where the taxpayer is dissatisfied with the current value placed on the property by the Board of Tax Assessors. This serves the purpose of establishing the taxpayer’s appeal rights if the declared value is changed again by the Board of Tax Assessors.
The Board of Tax Assessors is required to issue a notice of assessment for taxable tangible real and personal property. Upon receipt of this notice, the property owner desiring to appeal the assessment may do so within 45 days. The appeal may be based on taxability, value, uniformity, and/or the denial of an exemption. The written appeal is filed initially with the Board of Tax Assessors. The State of Georgia provides a uniform appeal form for use by property owners. In that initial written dispute, the property owner must declare their chosen method of appeal.The three methods of appeal include:
Board of Equalization: The appeal is filed by the property owner and reviewed by the board of assessors. The board of assessors may change the assessment and send a new invoice. The property owner may appeal the assessment in the amended notice within 30 days. The second appeal made by the property owner or any initial appeal which is not amended by the board of assessors is automatically forwarded to the Board of Equalization. After a hearing is scheduled and conducted the Board of Equalization renders its decision. If the taxpayer is still dissatisfied, an appeal to Superior Court may be made.
Hearing Officer: The tax payer may appeal to a Hearing Officer, who is a certified appraiser, when the issue of the appeal is the value of non-homestead real property, but only when the value is greater than $750,000. If the taxpayer is still dissatisfied, and appeal to Superior Court may be made.
Arbitration: An Arbitration appeal is filed with the board of assessors who must notify the taxpayer of the receipt of the arbitration appeal within 45 days. The taxpayer must submit a certified appraisal of the subject property which the board of assessors may accept or reject. If the taxpayers appraisal is rejected the board of assessors must certify the appeal to the county clerk or superior court for arbitration. The arbitration is authorized by the judge and a hearing is scheduled within 30 days. The arbitration will issue a decision at the conclusion of the hearing, which is final and which may not be appealed further.
Two general types of specialized or preferential assessment programs are available for owners of certain types of property. One of these programs authorizes assessment at 30% rather than 40% of fair market value for certain agricultural properties being used for bona fide agricultural purpose.
The second types of preferential program is the Conservation Use program which provides that certain agricultural properties, timber land property, environmentally sensitive property for residential transitional property is to be valued and assessed for ad valorem tax purposes at its current use value rather than its fair market value.
48-5-7.7 GEORGIA FOREST LAND PROTECTION ACT OF 2008provides for and ad valorem tax exemption for property primarily used for the food faith subsistence or commercial production of trees, timber, or other wood and wood fiber products and excludes the entire value of any residence located on the property. In addition, the property may have secondary uses such as the promotion, preservation, or management of wildlife habitat; carbon sequestration in accordance with the Georgia Carbon Sequestration Registry; mitigation and conservation banking that results in restoration or conservation of wetlands and other natural resources; or the production of ecosystems products and services such as but not limited to, clean air and water. This 15-year covenant agreement between the taxpayer and local board of assessors is limited to forest land tracts of more than 200 acres when owned by an individual or individuals or by an entity registered to do business in Georgia.
Each of these specialized or preferential programs requires the property owners to covenant with the Board of Tax Assessors to maintain the property its qualified use for a specified number of years. The preferential programs which authorizes assessment of the property at 30% instead of 40% and the Conservation Use Program both required 10 year covenants. The Forest Land Protection Act requires a 15 year covenant between the tax payer and the county. In Laurens County, an application for either of these programs must be filed with the Tax Assessors’ office between January 1st and April 1st. The Board of Tax Assessors can explain the ownership and used restrictions regarding property qualifying for any of these programs.
Other Land Assessment Programs that are available: Landmark Historical, Residential Transitional, Environmentally Sensitive, and Brownfield.