ATLANTA — Georgia’s property tax system would get a major overhaul meant to keep assessed values in check under legislation rolled out Monday by a top Senate leader.
Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, who has pursued property tax reform since a separate effort to do away with the taxes altogether failed two years ago, said his bill represents “one of the biggest rewrites” in the system’s history.
Rogers, R-Woodstock, said an outright end to the taxes on homes, land and buildings remains his ultimate goal. But in the meantime, he proposed about 40 changes to the current “cumbersome, unfair tax system that has no real transparency to it.”
Other state leaders are backing the proposal, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. And the Democratic minority on Monday signaled it wouldn’t fight this reform, as it has more radical ones.
There are many details to check in the 47-page bill, but state Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, said he’s ready to “get on it and get the job done” when it comes to reform.
“The system we have now ... is broken,” said Hooks, who represents Peach County and part of Crawford County in the Senate, where he is that body’s longest-serving member.
The bill would give property owners more appeal options when they disagree with the way the local tax assessor’s office values a piece of property.
That value is used, in conjunction with the millage rate, to figure the amount of taxes owed.
The bill also focuses on keeping values from staying above what a home or other property would sell for in the open market. If local governments need more revenue, they could still increase millage rates. But the ability to bring in more tax revenue due to increases in the values alone would be diminished.
Home sale prices have plummeted in the past couple of years. And though taxable values also have fallen in many communities, they’re often still higher than sale prices.
The changes detailed in Senate Bill 346 include:
n Locking in a property’s sales price as the assessed value for the first tax year. That means whatever someone pays for a home would be the home’s tax value for the first bill.
n Allowing taxpayers to appeal their assessed values at any time, instead of just for 30 days after they get an assessment notice.
n Sending those assessment notices out every year, instead of every few years when a revaluation is done.
n Forcing tax assessors to factor foreclosure and bank sales into their value calculations. Last year, the state Legislature tinkered with this rule but only made it optional, not mandatory. Including these sales generally would lower assessed values.
n Requiring any board of equalization vote to increase an assessed value be unanimous.
n Putting a time limit on assessors when a value is appealed. If the board of assessors doesn’t act quickly enough, the value would reset to the level the taxpayer submitted as part of his or her appeal.
There are other changes as well, and tax officials across the state will be digesting them in the coming weeks. Bill Vaughn, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Board of Tax Assessors, called the changes “pretty drastic.” He and Chief Appraiser Andrea Crutchfield worried that annual notices would get expensive.
It costs about $75,000 every time Bibb County sends those out, Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield also questioned factoring in every foreclosure sale.
“Not every foreclosure, I think, is indicative of fair market value,” she said.