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Liberty property owners get some relief
Satellite view showing east Liberty County, where owners of marsh- and waterfront property say tax assessment increases have been the worst. - photo by Photo provided.

Editor's note: There was a brief AP report Friday morning that said the bills that exempt minor home repairs from increasing tax assessments in Liberty County passed the Georgia General Assembly Thursday night. We'll have more on that Sunday.

Here is Friday's story on the bills.

Since property taxes spiked in the 2003 re-evaluation, county and state officials have been working to find an economic middle ground among themselves and property owners.   
The latest potential relief came two weeks ago when Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway) had two measures (Bills 767 and 768) pass in the House, which would block some home improvements in the county from raising property owners’ tax bills.
These bills would expand the KDW Tax Relief Act because it would enable any home improvement to go tax free if it amounted to 5 percent or less of the property’s value.
Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah), accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams (R-Lyons), agreed to foster the bills through the upper chamber, and they are confident they will pass.
“I was originally a sponsor of the KDW County Tax Relief Act and I support any efforts to ensure the intent of the law is carried out,” Johnson said.
Throughout the years, members of the Liberty County Tax Assessor Board have also worked on expanding their capabilities to try to meet the needs of the people.  
Board Chairman Russell Wells said many changes took place when the current chief appraiser, Glenda Roberts, took over.
“A few years ago, there was a lot of back-logged work. We were missing deadlines and we were behind. Since hiring Glenda, we’ve never missed a deadline. We’re consistent in our assessments and we’ve stepped up our service to the public to hear their needs and questions,” Wells said.
To achieve improved relations, Roberts had employees of the assessors’ office attend extensive customer-service training sessions to improve the quality of service throughout the office, Wells said.
The tax assessors revalue Liberty County’s property every three years, and in the meantime, they are audited every three months by the Department of Revenue to ensure they’re on task, Wells said.
Adequate staff has been a problem for the appraisers office, but Roberts said the office now has sufficient job slots funded and all are filled.
Despite these improvements, Tax Commissioner Virgil Jones said there are still cracks in the system because property values have continued to go up, and in turn, the taxes keep rising.
“Overall, I think the property values are right, but I think it’s creating too much of a burden for the taxpayers. I want to see the stabilization of property values, and I want to lower the ‘mill rate’ (the rate used to calculate taxes).”
With these tax accumulations, the properties nearest to the coast have been hit the hardest, and Citizens Advisory Committee Chairman John Henderson has disputed the increases ever since their implementation.
“I believe the methodology behind the taxation seems inconsistent, and I believe that property values vary too widely along the coast. The differences in some of these properties seem negligible, yet they are taxed and valued at seemingly inconceivable numbers,” Henderson said.
He contends the problems that hurt the tax assessor’s office years ago are still lingering, and said changes still need to be made.
“Residents along the coast have appealed their property taxes to no avail. The assessor’s office says they take our appeals into account, but I do not think their staff is still capable of adequately valuing my land, and the land of my neighbors. Changes still need to be made,” he said.
Wells said these apparent gaps in the numbers are due to sales ratios, and one has to consider the demand of a particular piece of land along with the complexity of how it is valued in order to understand why one piece may be worth more or less than the next.
Wells, a veteran board member who became chairman three years ago, said new blood is good for the agency and pointed out that newest board member Don Boyce is a credentialed appraiser himself. He said this would be an important asset to the board.
In response to citizens’ concerns, the county paid more than $500,000 in 2003 for an outside firm to re-evaluate property.

Correspondent Joe Parker Jr. contributed to this story.

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