Liberty County’s Board of Assessors displayed a Department of the Army-state of Georgia agreement saying that the state has jurisdiction over taxation of private property on Fort Stewart at the assessors January meeting.
The assessors moved last year to tax the private property located on the Fort Stewart military reservation, private property worth about $244 million. The private owners of the buildings have appealed.
The board hasn’t said when it might issue a decision on whether the property can be taxed, but County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette said he expects a lengthy appeals process from the property‘s owners, Balfour Beatty.
If the property remained on the digest it would be a windfall for the county, he said.
Chief Assessor Glenda Roberts presented a slideshow at the Jan. 10 board meeting that included documents showing the information the assessors used when levying on the privately owned housing on Fort Stewart.
County Attorney Kelly Davis explained that the Balfour Beatty on-post housing, held in the name of Stewart Hunter Housing LLC, was part of a public-private partnership.
The original agreements, Davis said, were written to make the property exempt from taxes and the Georgia attorney general and Liberty County agreed with that at the time.
The year 2015 brought changes to that situation: the Army and the state agreed to concurrent
jurisdiction over the reservation instead of exclusive federal jurisdiction, and Balfour Beatty seemed to be offering their property on Fort Stewart to civilians with no military links.
The retrocession documents changing jurisdiction over the 277,941 acres of Fort Stewart were signed by the Department of the Army in April 2015 and by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal in June of that year.
Among the legal provisions for shared roles on the Fort Stewart reservation is one that local officials have highlighted: ". . . the state of Georgia expressly retains civil and criminal jurisdiction over persons and citizens, and jurisdiction over the taxation of private property . . . ."
Besides that "taxation of private property" document Roberts also showed three emails sent by Balfour Beatty employees in 2015 to a civilian whose name is redacted for privacy. In one email a Balfour Beatty rental specialist writes, "We are very excited to be renting to DoD, retirees and civilians."
With the change in jurisdiction and the apparently rentals to non-soldiers the board of assessors decided to levy on the private property, the buildings, not the ground which remains exempt.
For 2015 the assessors set the value of the on-post private property at more than $70 million. For 2016 the assessors said the private property’s fair market value was $244 million.
Stewart-Hunter LLC appealed the taxation of its property on Fort Stewart and since the value of that property is more than five percent of the value of all property in the county the state is unable to approve to approve the county tax digest.
With no approved digest, county officials were forced to petition for court approval for a temporary digest and permission to collect taxes based on it. Superior Court Judge Jay Stewart granted the county’s petition Dec. 29.
The assessors also held a closed session with attorney Davis, Lovette, County Commissioner Marion Stevens and County Administrator Joey Brown.