Bibb judge clears way for tax bills

All Bibb County property owners will get tax bills next month, but a judge Tuesday ordered measures to lighten the load for the hardest-hit taxpayers fighting skyrocketing assessments.

After a court hearing that stretched four hours, Chief Superior Court Judge Martha Christian agreed to let Bibb County, the city of Macon and the Bibb school system begin sending temporary tax bills based on new 2009 property values.

Properties under appeal whose values increased by less than 200 percent initially will be billed based on 50 percent of their values. Properties under appeal whose values increased by more than 200 percent — effectively tripled — will be billed at 30 percent. Taxes are expected to be finalized in the spring when officials send out credits or bills for any remaining taxes owed.

Next month’s tax bills will be based on a rolled-back millage rate, making tax collections revenue neutral for local governments, Bibb Tax Commissioner Tommy Tedders said. Individual tax bills will vary.

Without Tuesday’s court order, local governments would not have been able to collect taxes because the 16,700 appeals generated from the recent countywide property revaluation are preventing the tax digest from being completed and sent to the state for approval.

However, a state law allows counties to petition Superior Court for a temporary tax billing if they won’t be able to cover the cost of operating government.

Bibb Commission Chairman Sam Hart, schools Superintendent Sharon Patterson and Macon Finance Director Tom Barber all testified that without the temporary tax billing they would hit a financial roadblock.

Tim Thornton, a Macon real estate manager, fought for leniency after he said one of his properties’ assessed values jumped about 6,300 percent. He sought tax bills based on discounted values until the 2009 values he says are too high are reviewed in the appeals process.

The judge established a middle ground between what he wanted and what the governments sought.

“We’re not 100 percent satisfied, but sometimes you don’t get 100 percent of what you’re seeking,” Thornton said.

In that, he was echoed by Bibb County Attorney Virgil Adams, who told the judge, “Not everyone’s going to be happy, no matter what we do. What we’re here about is trying to be fair, not only to the governments but to the taxpayers.”

Under Christian’s court order, most properties — the three-quarters that weren’t appealed — will earn tax bills based on their assessed values. The temporary tax rate is rolled back about 20 percent from last year’s rate, Tedders said. The three affected governments will have to finalize their rates in the spring.

Half of each tax bill must be paid in October with the rest in November. Residents may get refunds or further bills early next year when the digest is finalized. That won’t happen until all appeals are reconciled and the state signs off on the tax digest.

Patterson said the court order was necessary to keep the schools running. The Bibb County school system recently had to borrow $14.5 million so it can meet payroll for September and October, following state funding cuts, she said.

“We expect to be able to maintain the normal course of business,” she said after the hearing. She was echoed by Hart, who said, “I think we can live with that.”

This year’s revaluation is effectively the county’s first since 2001.

Telegraph staff writer Jennifer Burk contributed to this report.