This past June, the Bulloch County Tax Assessor's office mailed over 30,000 Annual Notice of Assessments to property owners in Bulloch County.
The notices were the result of Georgia Senate Bill 346 which was passed by the General Assembly mandating the annual notice to all property owners starting in 2011.
"We knew when we mailed them out that there would be some confusion, and there was," said John Scott, Bulloch County chief tax appraiser. "For the first time, each notice reflected all taxing authorities: state, county, school, school bond and city. To a lot of folks, it appeared as if they were getting a tax increase, when in fact, it just had all of the taxes associated with property ownership listed on one document."
The Notice of Assessment was not a bill and no payment was due at the time of its issuance. But, it was an estimate of the tax bill that the property owner would receive, and property owners had until July 15 to file an appeal if they disagreed with the estimate. Scott said his office received approximately 400 appeals from property owners disputing the assessed value of their property.
"Actually, that really isn't a very large percentage — approximately 1.25 percent," he said. "We are working very diligently to resolve those appeals, and it may take us into the first of this next year to do that."
Scott said that each appeal will be reviewed and another tax estimate issued. "If the property owner doesn't agree with our reassessment, then there are avenues he or she can pursue."
According to Scott, the taxpayer may choose to appeal to the Board of Equalization which is at no cost to the taxpayer. A property owner may choose arbitration which would require an appraisal by an independent source at the taxpayer’s expense plus the cost of the arbitrator if appeal is denied.
A taxpayer on non-homesteaded property over $1,000,000 may choose to have their appeal heard by a Hearing Officer at shared expense by the taxpayer and county.
Liz Lynn, chief tax appraiser for neighboring Evans County, said her office issued 6426 Annual Notice of Assessments this year.
"We had about 25 appeals, which is up just slightly from years past," she said. "I do think when the actual tax bills are mailed, however, there could be some confusion."
Lynn said the county's Notice of Assessments were based on the prior year's millage rage. "Our residential values dropped slightly resulting in a reduction in our tax digest from $654,431,627 to $648,677,925," she said. "If the millage rate goes up, those estimates will not be right."
Scott said with this new law, property values will have to be analyzed each year, and another decrease in property values of some parcels isn't out of the question.
"In 2010, we were under the law that said we shall consider bank sales, and in the neighborhoods where those bank sales were the market, we adjusted value accordingly," Scott said. "The difference in 2009 and 2010 sales and the reason for more widespread reduction in residential values is that in 2010, the bank sales were more widely distributed throughout the county resulting in more widespread reductions.
"There are still foreclosures taking place, and banks are continuing to reduce their inventory," he said. "What is happening is very troubling, but ultimately, property sales will tell us where decisions need to be made."
Scott said he was a little surprised at the number of appeals his office received.
"I would have expected 3-5 percent going into this but we also reduced values on roughly 2/3 of the parcels in the county," he said. "I believe we appropriately responded to the market here in Bulloch County and hopefully most property owners recognized that. Those who felt otherwise appealed and we are working to resolve those appeals as soon as we can."