Liberty County, along with other counties across Georgia, has missed the state’s Aug. 1 tax digest submission deadline due, in part, to a new tax law, Tax Commissioner Virgil Jones said. Jones said the tax assessor’s office is responsible for preparing and taking the digest to Atlanta for submittal.
Liberty County Tax Assessor Glenda Roberts offered an explanation for why the county’s tax digest is late this year.
She said there were computer-programming issues related to sending out annual notices of assessment to all property owners in accordance with Senate Bill 346, a new state law on ad valorem taxes.
These assessment notices only used to be sent to new property owners or property owners whose property values had changed, Roberts said. The new law dictates all property owners receive a notice of assessment, including a property value and an estimated tax amount based on last year’s millage rate.
“Typically, for my office, assessment notices leave the first week in May. This year they did not go out until mid-June,” Roberts said.
She said the state had to set up new computer programs in each county assessor’s office.
“We had to wait for a programmer to assist the office here to get the program set up,” Roberts said.
Roberts said her office sent out 24,600 notices of assessment this year.
“Out of that number, there were 400 appeals, which is typical for us, but we anticipated way more,” she said.
Roberts and Jones listed five taxing entities in Liberty County: the county, the board of education, the city of Hinesville, the Liberty County Development Authority and the hospital authority.
Tax bills normally should go out by Oct. 20 and are due Dec. 20, Jones said. However, Liberty County typically sends tax bills out later because the board of education usually waits until November to set its millage rate, Roberts and Jones said.
“Since they don’t want to lose federal funding, they wait to see what the rest of the state’s average (millage) rate is,” Jones said.
The school board likely would set its millage rate earlier than November if setting it earlier wouldn’t put the school system at risk for losing federal impact aid, Liberty County School System Assistant Superintendent Jason Rogers said.
“Overall, we receive about $8 (million) to $9 million annually from the federal government’s impact aid program,” Rogers said.
He explained that the school system receives this funding because a large number of the student population is “federally connected,” meaning many children in the public schools here have parents who are active-duty military or employed by the federal government. As Fort Stewart is not taxed, impact aid helps the school board recoup tax revenue, Rogers said.
To receive a $3 million to $3.5 million portion of its annual impact aid funding, the Liberty County Board of Education must set a millage rate that is 95 percent or more than the current state average millage rate, he said. Since many schools boards don’t set rates until after August or September, the school board could “miss the mark,” he said. Rogers said they could lose impact funds if the board were to set a rate that is lower than the state average and could “be counted out of the program.”
If they were to be dropped from the impact aid program, re-entry to the program could hurt taxpayers, he said.
“To gain re-entry, we would have to establish a mill rate that is 125 percent or more of the state average,” Rogers said, adding that the school system also must meet established requirements for receiving impact aid.
He said the school board is working with the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools to try to change the regulations so the school board would not have to wait until November to set its millage rate. Rogers said it makes more sense to him to set a mill rate based on the prior year’s tax estimates.