Senate bill would overhaul Georgia property tax system

AJC results: Review found that appraisers routinely ignored sales

“The collection of taxes should be fair, transparent and easy to understand. Sadly, the property tax system in Georgia accomplishes none of these things,” Rogers said. “This legislation attempts to bring fairness to an unfair system.”

Rogers added that changes are needed because of the recent downturn in the housing market. He said that while home values have dipped across the state, property tax assessments have remained artificially high. His bill, for example, proposes that homeowners can be taxed only for the price of their home.

"If you buy a home this year and you don't do anything to it, whatever you paid for it should be your assessment for that year,” Rogers said.

In December, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that county tax appraisers are setting higher values on residential properties than they sold for. The AJC found during an eight-month review of sales values and tax appraisals in Cobb, Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties that assessors routinely ignore sales when they fall below tax appraisals. The study found ZIP codes all over metro Atlanta where median sales fell more than 30 percent but median tax appraisals dipped between 5 percent and 10 percent.

John O’Callaghan, president of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, said Rogers’ bill would provide needed relief to homeowners, especially those in poor neighborhoods.

“State law requires that when we tax you, it should be based on the value of your house,” O’Callaghan said. “For a homeowner in a high-foreclosure neighborhood, they are overpaying their property taxes up to $1,600 a year.”

The bill, SB 346, includes:

  • Year-round property appeals.
  • Making sure that every property receives an annual notice of assessment.
  • Statewide uniformity of assessment notices and appeal forms.
  • Allowing counties to accept payment plans for property taxes and discounts for early payments.
  • Establishing time limits for assessor action in response to appeals.
  • Requiring a unanimous vote by Board of Equalization members to increase assessed value.

“Georgians from all over the state created this legislation,” said Rogers, who held several hearings on property tax reform. “We have had hundreds of suggestions for change. The more than 40 changes represented in this bill represent the will of the people and the will to bring needed relief to property owners.”

Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts said that he has been doing independent research on property tax reform for months now and supports the premise of the bill.

“I think it is a huge step in the right direction, which would lead to fairness,” Pitts said. “It makes a lot of sense and gives relief to taxpayers.”

In announcing his bill, Rogers acknowledged that some counties might bring in less money on appraisals -- but added that as long as taxpayers were being taxed fairly, he could live with it.

Pitts said adjustments would be in order.

“Would it mean adjustments from the county point of view? Yes, it would,” Pitts said. “But if we have been taxing unfairly and spending what we shouldn’t have been spending, that is a problem. This would serve to correct the situation. This may be a bitter pill to swallow, but what is fair is fair.”

Rogers said more than 30 senators have signed the bill, which has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee. Rogers said he has no plans to fast-track the bill.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said the current system is “broken,” antiquated and subjective. One of the major complaints with the current system is that any appraiser can come and visually look at a piece of property and offer an assessment value not based on any scientific or mathematical equations.

“Georgians do not pay higher taxes when the value of their cars decrease, and property taxes should be no different,” Cagle said.

Representatives of tax assessors’ offices in Fulton and Gwinnett counties said they had not read all of Rogers’ bill yet and would not comment.

Staff writer Shane Blatt contributed to this article.

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