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Bennett says assessors may address low values in some classes

The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts recently released the 2014 sales ratio study and Grady County’s ratio is among the three lowest in the state.
Grady County commissioners this week met with Grady County Chief Appraiser Susan Bennett and members of the Grady County Board of Tax Assessors to discuss the state’s findings.
With a target goal of 40 percent, only Chattooga and Trion Counties had lower ratios than Grady and Towns County tied with Grady with a ratio of 36.21 percent.
Annually the state compares actual sales of real property to fair market value set by county tax assessors to develop the sales ratio calculation.
According to the county’s chief appraiser, the 2014 study was done differently from those in the past.
“Generally they would take the 2014 sales and compare them to the 2014 digest. This year they used 2013 sales and compared them to the 2014 digest. It’s not typically done that way,” Ms. Bennett said.
Commissioners voiced concern about what appeared to be the low ratio for industrial and agricultural properties which were at 32.64 percent for ag and 32.61 for industrial.
Ms. Bennett said that the averages were low for industrial and agricultural land, but the medians for all classes were in the 39 percent range.
According to the chief appraiser, the averages are misleading particularly for the agriculture class. She said that there was only one sale in 2013 considered agriculture and it was only a nine acre tract.
“If there are not enough sales they pull in commercial and industrial sales,” Ms. Bennett said.
She said one appraisal done by the state staff lowered the averages for the whole digest.
When asked if the county could appeal the study, Ms. Bennett said that was an option but she recommended against it.
“They’re not fining us so we don’t need to appeal, it could be worse,” Ms. Bennett said.
She noted that the 2014 study for the commercial class included 12 commercial samples with six being actual sales and the other six were appraisals done by the state.
“You’re dealing with a ratio and a median, which are two different things. It’s the ratio we have to look at. No matter how flawed you think the process is we have to comply with the state’s findings. It all boils down to we have a ratio of 36.21, which is the third lowest in the state. We have to do something about it. What can we do?” Commissioner T.D. David asked Ms. Bennett.
The chief appraiser suggested that the tax assessors may consider a revaluation of commercial and industrial property next year, but she noted it would be difficult to complete next year.
Ms. Bennett also pointed out that a large number of sales in 2014 were bank sales, which impact the local real estate market.
Commissioner David said the county did not just end up in this situation. “It’s been this way for three to four years,” he said.
Ms. Bennett told commissioners Tuesday night that a state official told her that Grady County was in a “unique” position for the 2014 study. She also reminded commissioners that it was the decision of the board of assessors whether or not to do a revaluation of classes of property or not.
“After 2008 we lowered values. We may have gone too far,” Ms. Bennett admitted.
The state can fine counties whose ratio falls below 36 percent, but Ms. Bennett said that few if any counties are fined anymore because the state allows you three years to come in compliance.
Commissioner Charles Norton questioned what values had been changed this year and Ms. Bennett said none unless improvements had been made or if there was new construction.
Norton asked how the digest could decrease by $10 million if that were the case and Ms. Bennett reminded him that the biggest drop was the loss of values of motor vehicles in the tax digest. Buyers of new vehicles no longer paid ad valorem taxes on vehicles, but pay a title tax instead.
On Tuesday night county leaders also discussed ways to insure the county is obtaining all of the tax revenue due to the county from the sale of timber.
Board of Assessors Chairman Prentiss Mitchell recommended the county consider requiring a permit be purchased from the county before timber could be cut.
“It’s just one more permit and our folks would know when timber is being cut and we could insure we collect the appropriate taxes,” Mitchell said.
Ms. Bennett told commissioners that five months could pass after the timber is actually cut before a bill is sent.
Commissioners asked County Administrator Carlos Tobar to research the possibility of establishing a timber permit for the county.

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