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Tax digest flawed, bills will go out late

Tax bills for residents of Grady County will be going out late this year after officials discovered flaws in the tax digest presented last week by Tax Assessor Susan Bennett.
City of Cairo officials discovered a discrepancy in the $24,626,583 reported growth in personal property values and alerted county officials of the situation.
Grady County Administrator Rusty Moye said Tuesday the personal property return submitted by the Timken Company was not complete and did not include allowances for depreciation.
This incomplete return was not noticed by Ms. Bennett’s office and was included in the tax digest presented to the county commission last Tuesday.
Both the Grady County Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education set tentative millage rates based on the tax digest presented by Ms. Bennett and had scheduled special called meetings for Thursday, Oct. 8, to adopt the 2009 millage rate.
“The numbers we were presented last week are as false as my grandma’s teeth,” Moye said.
“We don’t have a digest at this moment,” the county administrator added.
Compounding the problem with the inflated personal property growth in the digest is the large amount of assessments that are appealable.
Moye says that Ms. Bennett did not run a grand total on the appealable value of the revaluations or changes in the digest until Tuesday and the total is approximately $27 million in fair market value.
According to Moye, that exceeds the state limit of three percent of the tax digest. The Georgia Department of Revenue will not approve a digest when more than 3 percent of the total value is appealable, according to Tax Commissioner Phyllis Gainous.
Ms. Bennett is expected to mail out notices of assessments to county tax payers affected by a revaluation later this week.
Because of the large amount of appealable changes, the final adoption of the 2009 millage rate must be postponed at least 45 days, which is the time provided for taxpayers to appeal their assessment.
Moye says the commission is canceling its previously scheduled Oct. 8 meeting and will reschedule it for sometime in November. At that time, the county will have to readvertise its notice of the five-year history of tax levy. Fourteen days after the five-year history is advertised, the board can adopt a millage rate and the digest can be submitted to the state for approval and tax bills can then be mailed.
“At the earliest, we can get the bills in the mail the first week of December,” Moye said.
That will push back the due date into February of next year, according to county officials.
The late billing has some county commissioners upset with the tax assessor.
“I regret the digest was not completed in a timely manner and that the numbers presented to the board last week were incorrect. It is especially unfortunate when all of the other counties around us have already mailed out their tax bills,” Chairman Bobby Burns said Tuesday afternoon.
He added, “I am even more disappointed that taxpayers who have escrow accounts will lose out on the deduction on their income tax because mortgage companies do not pay the taxes out of the escrow accounts until right before the due date, which in this case will be into next year.”
The chairman pointed out that taxpayers with escrow accounts can request their taxes be paid prior to Dec. 31, and all other taxpayers wishing to take advantage of the income tax deduction can pay their taxes prior to year end.
“We’ve obviously got a problem over there, and I regret the bills are going out late,” County Commissioner Charles Norton said Tuesday.
The problems with the digest also affect the cities of Cairo and Whigham, in addition to the Grady County Board of Education.
Tentatively, the school board plans to meet next Thursday, even though the digest is in limbo, because the board has yet to adopt a budget for the fiscal year which began in July.
“You know, last week we were all set to go and now this. We will just wait and see what the situation is next week,” School Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis said.
Cairo City Clerk Carolyn Lee said the delay in the digest will also cause city tax bills to go out late, but she said her office could have them mailed within days of the county so that taxpayers would have the opportunity to pay them before the end of the year.
Whigham City Clerk Lisa Calhoun was not available for comment Tuesday.

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