Liberty County property owners will be getting their tax bills late due to appeals from the company who owns the lease on more than $243 million worth of private property on Fort Stewart that was added to the county’s tax digest for the first time in 2016.
When tax bills will go out now depends on a judge’s order, according to Tax Commissioner Virgil Jones.
The property under appeal is owned by Stewart Hunter Housing LLC.
The ground it sits on is part of the federal reservation and cannot be taxed, but officials believe they can tax the privately owned property on the base.
The property owners have appealed the assessors’ action and the state will not approve the county tax digest while property worth more than 5 percent of the dollar value is being appealed, according to officials. Chief Appraiser Glenda Roberts said the property is approximately 6 percent of the county’s total digest and is collectively worth $243,909,513.
The property includes Coastal Ridge, Isenhower Terrace, Isenhower Village, Liberty Woods, Marne Homes, Marne View, Marne Woods, New Marne, North Bryan Village and South Bryan Village.
Roberts said assessors added the properties to the digest because of a retrocession agreement that went into effect May 2015, which they believe allows them to tax the privately owned property on post.
Retrocession, in regards to property, is where ownership of a property is relinquished to another.
When the Army initially took control of the land on which Fort Stewart sits, the state ceded complete control of the land, water and air to the federal government. Over the years, as services were needed on post such as a bank, development of a joint airport, traffic enforcement on state highways, some powers and privileges were gradually given back to the state or county.
Attempts to reach Stewart Hunter Housing LLC headquarters were unsuccessful Tuesday. But while local officials await the outcome of Stewart Hunter Housing LLC’s appeal, the county’s tax commissioner will wait on a judge’s order to see whether he can issue tax bills.
Jones was told the earliest a hearing can be set is the last week of December. Until the county receives the judge’s decision, Jones said, the tax office hands are tied.
He added taxpayers shouldn’t worry about bills going up because of the appeal.
"The mill rates that are approved for 2016 by each tax entity will remain the same whether the Fort Stewart properties remain as taxable, are reduced in value, or whether they are removed from the digest totally," Jones said. "So, what everyone is billed initially would not change as a result."
If a judge allows for tax bills to be sent out, Jones said he and his staff will work to get out the bills the last few days of December. People will be able to pay their taxes online or come into the office to pay without waiting on a paper bill to come in the mail. Jones said he will also work to get bills to mortgage companies so residents can get tax credits.
The worst case scenario, Jones said, is for a judge not to grant the order, then the county will have to wait until the assessors resolve the appeal.