In a unanimous but non-binding resolution, the Liberty County Commission has apparently backed off an effort to collect taxes on private property on the Fort Stewart military reservation.
The private property was valued at $244 million in 2016.
County Attorney Kelly Davis told the commissioners Tuesday the resolution was drafted in response to tax assessors asking the commission’s opinion on the matter.
The resolution relies on an opinion of the Georgia attorney general holding that the buildings located on the federal reservation are exempt from property tax and the lack of any law controlling the taxation.
In an update in January, the tax assessors pointed to an agreement between the Army and the state of Georgia which included the phrase “. . . the state of Georgia expressly retains civil and criminal jurisdiction over persons and citizens, and jurisdiction over the taxation of private property....”
The 2015 agreement was approved as part of the change from exclusive federal jurisdiction over Fort Stewart to concurrent jurisdiction shared by Georgia and its political subdivisions and by the Army.
Besides that “taxation of private property” document Chief Assessor Glenda Roberts also showed three emails sent by leaseholder 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 possibility that Balfour Beatty was renting to non-soldiers, the board of assessors decided to levy on the private property, the buildings, not the ground which remains exempt.
The private owner of the property, listed as Stewart Hunter LLC, appealed the decision to tax their private property. The $244 million value of the leased post housing on Fort Stewart amounted to about six percent of the county’s total digest and the Georgia Department of Revenue does not approve county digests if more than five percent is being appealed.
This forced the county to seek court approval of a temporary digest and permission to collect taxes. Officials did not rely on the Fort Stewart private property when setting the millage rate, so abandonment of the claim should not affect tax bills. When the appeals are settled the county can resume use of its regular digest.
The board of assessors met in a closed executive session last week to discuss the private property on Fort Stewart. It will be on the agenda of the public tax assessors board meeting August 15 at 10 a.m. in the County Annex building.
Balfour Beatty is a large multinational corporation. It reported 2016 revenue of$2.6 billion in the United States alone.