This week, the Bulloch County Tax Assessor's office is expected to mail the results of its county wide property revaluation, and most local property owners should expect an increase in the assessed value of their property.
Bulloch County's chief appraiser, John Scott, said there was no way to avoid this latest reassessment.
"When and how property is valued for the purposes of levying property taxes is not an arbitrary thing, it is mandated by the Georgia Department of Revenue," Scott said. "Every three years a total review of our property digest is done by Department of Revenue to assure compliance with value, uniformity, and lack of statistical bias. With the price of property continuing to increase in Bulloch County, a reassessment was warranted so as to remain in compliance."
Scott said in 1992 there were approximately 16,000 parcels of property in Bulloch County. He said now, there are more than 28,000.
"There has been that much subdivision of land since 1992," he said. "In 2006 alone, there were 956 new parcels created and over 3,600 transfers of property ownership."
So where does this leave the Bulloch County property owner? Most likely looking at a higher fair market value on which their property taxes will be based.
"Property taxes are calculated on 40 percent of a property's fair market value," Scott said. "The fair market value is set by buyers and sellers in the market. It is set by the marketplace, and prices in this marketplace for both residential and commercial property have gone up tremendously in the last few years."
Scott said that sales transactions of property are used to determine if the county has placed realistic valuations on property within it.
"We look at all of the sales that have taken place within Bulloch County," he said. "We then take the sales price of a property and look at the assessed value to see if the assessed value is between 36 and 44 percent of the sales price. If it is below 36 percent, then our assessed values are too low. It is very straight forward."
Scott said property revaluations happen routinely such as when a house is constructed or a property is sold. However, a revaluation of every property in the county, or a revaluation of the "property tax digest" as it is called in the industry, has only been conducted every three years for the last several years.
Marion Hulsey, a local businessman and chairman of the Bulloch County Board of Tax Assessors, said he hopes that property owners will take a moment to look through their new assessment
"When property owners get their new valuations, I hope that they will look at it and say that it reasonably reflects the value of their property," Hulsey said. "At the end of the day, what a property will bring in the marketplace is its fair market value."
Scott and Hulsey are quick to point out that an increase in one's property value does not automatically dictate an increase in the amount of property tax an owner pays.
"According to Georgia law, when a valuation of a tax digest results in an increase in property values, then the millage rate is rolled back is offset the increase, unless one of the levying authorities which are the city, county, and school board decides not to offset their portion of the increased revenues generated by the higher property values," Scott said.
Hulsey said each one of those authorities would be required to hold public hearings to let residents know why they need the additional tax dollars, and the public can subsequently voice their opinion.
"But at the end of the day, the job of the tax assessor's office is to assign a fair market value to a piece of property," Hulsey said. "It is the governing authorities' jobs to levy taxes on it."
Candler County residents have also seen their property valuations increase, and according to Marian Grier, Candler County's chief appraiser, they are not happy about it.
"Local residents are upset that their property values and subsequently their property taxes are going up," Grier said. "We have literally had homes double in value since 2000. Compared to where they were, we are seeing property values going 'through the roof', and that has been a hardship for many'."
Kathy Newton has served as an appraiser in the Bulloch Tax Assessor's office for the last seven years. Newton said many extra hours were put into this latest reassessment.
"This revaluation was a very comprehensive process," Newton said. "We went parcel by parcel to make sure that all were valued equally and that the assessment was fair and uniform. That is quite a task given the real estate market that we have had the last several years."
Scott said property owners can choose to disagree with their new assessment and are welcome to come to the Tax Assessor's office to discuss it.
"When the property owner receives their notice, they might ask themselves, 'Is the value conclusion shown, a reasonable representation of the value of my particular property?'" Scott said. "If it is representative of their opinion of value, then, hopefully, we have done a fair and equitable job in our efforts. If they have questions or another opinion, please feel free to contact our office for further discussion."
Scott said in 2004, when the last tax digest revaluation was done, there were approximately 600 informal inquiries and 300 formal appeals.
"Of the formal appeals, about 75 went to the Board of Equalization," he said. "The point that is important for property owners to remember is that the notice will show a 2004 value compared to a 2007 value in what has been one of, if not the most dynamic real estate markets in history."
Scott said the gross value of the Bulloch County tax digest in 2006 was $3.35 billion. He expects the gross value resulting from the new assessment to be between $4.00 and $4.25 billion.