Officials fear tax digest may shrink big time

The Grady County Board of Tax Assessors is playing a game of hurry up and wait as they prepare to mail tax assessment notices to all property owners within the county in the coming weeks.
April 1 is the date assessments are to be mailed annually, but the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation that changes the process. In the past, assessment notices were mailed to property owners whose valuations increased, but under the new law notices must be mailed to all taxpayers, even if the value of their real property decreased.
According to Chief Appraiser Susan Bennett, the new law also requires the notice include an estimate of the tax bill, and this requirement is causing a delay in mailing the notices while software programming takes place.
Ms. Bennett hopes to mail notices the week of April 11 so that the tax digest can be completed and presented to the board of commissioners by June 1, but she is not confident that deadline can be met.
“The left hand is waiting on the right all around. You can’t move until another agency moves,” Commissioner T.D. David observed.
Ms. Bennett told commissioners she hopes the reprogramming is completed very shortly, and she also stated that other counties are facing similar delays.
In fact, The Messenger contacted Colquitt, Decatur, Mitchell and Thomas counties and they are projecting their notices will be mailed sometime in May, with Mitchell reporting notices would not be mailed until June.
“Legislation requiring a notice be mailed to every taxpayer is just stupid. You shouldn’t have to send one unless the assessment increases. No one is going to appeal a decrease,” Chairman Charles Norton said Tuesday morning.
The chief appraiser agreed and noted, “it will be very costly.” County officials say it will cost approximately $7,000 to mail out the required notices. Of even more concern to county leaders is the possibility of the value of the county’s tax digest dropping significantly.
A 10 percent reduction has been rumored, but Ms. Bennett told commissioners Tuesday morning she would not “venture a guess as to a percentage. Until the notices are mailed and the 45 days run up will we know.”
Chairman Norton asked what percentage of the approximately 15,000 parcels were going down, and the chief appraiser projected that 90 percent would reflect a reduction of some percentage.
“If you’ve got that many going down, it can add up pretty quickly and get ugly on the bottom end,” Chairman Norton said.
Once assessment notices are mailed, taxpayers have 45 days from the date of the notice in which to appeal the assessment. An ongoing moratorium ordered by the legislature prohibits the county from increasing the valuation of real property unless there is new construction or additions.
That is why Ms. Bennett says that the majority of the notices to be mailed in the coming weeks will include lower values.
Should the tax digest fall substantially, the board of commissioners and the Grady County Board of Education would be forced to reduce spending or increase the millage rate.
Over the last two years the digest has dropped, but only by .6 percent the year prior, and 2.6 percent last year.
County commissioners will begin budget preparations shortly for 2012 but, without some idea of the value of the tax digest, those preparations become seriously complicated.
County Administrator Rusty Moye said that until Ms. Bennett can give him a figure on the digest it will be difficult to finalize the budget. He noted that the deadline to submit the digest to the Georgia Department of Revenue is Aug. 1.
In order for tax assessors to submit the digest to the county commission by June 1, the assessment notices must be mailed next week, which is not a certainty.
When taxpayers receive their assessment notice it will include an estimate of the current year’s tax based on the assessed value and the previous year’s millage rate. Officials note that this is not a tax bill and no tax is due when the notice is received. It should also be noted that the estimated taxes may vary when the official tax bill is mailed later this year from the tax commissioner’s office.

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