By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Higher property tax bills are likely
Virgil Jones his pix
Tax Commissioner Virgil Jones
Editor, I would like to take this opportunity to share with the citizens and taxpayers of Liberty County some very important information which is a result of recently signed legislation. These two very important issues have the potential to greatly affect the amount of the 2009 property taxes for many. I would prefer to tell you that these issues will affect these property owners by lowering property taxes, but I have to admit that each has the potential to increase property taxes.
The tax commissioner does not set nor determine what your property taxes will be. Property values are determined and mill rates are set by as many as six taxing authorities. The combined mill rates multiplied by your assessed value less any exemptions produces your amount of taxes.
But what my office does out of concern for the citizens we serve is to always try to educate. We have helped many property owners reduce taxes by making them aware of the different exemptions they are eligible for as well as simply advising them on the things they can do to possibly lower their property value. I have found that most property owners do not respond when they should, that is, to their assessment notice that goes out each year as Georgia law requires. Property owners will respond to an increased tax bill; but then it is too late.
The first thing that I would like to make you aware of is the loss of the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant for 2009. This exemption was granted years ago under then Gov. Roy Barnes and the legislature and it gave an additional $8,000 exemption to homeowners who were eligible for any of the various homestead exemptions. HTRG generated an average savings to qualified homeowners of $260 in 2008. When the tax commissioner bills property taxes for the year the $8,000 exemption is given, thus reducing your tax bill. The state would then reimburse this revenue to the counties.
Why is it not being given any longer? Because of declining state revenues during the recent recession the money is not there for the state to give the tax relief to homeowners. This produces a $430 million savings to the state and produces an automatic tax increase of $200-$300 on 2009 tax bills for homeowners.
Though many legislators fought to keep the HTRG and try to cut the budget elsewhere it was not successful. The grant will only be made available in the future if state revenues grow at least 3 percent plus the rate of inflation. This exemption was given by and now taken away by the state. Please do not hold our local taxing authorities responsible for this increase.
The second issue that you should be aware of is the passage of HB 233 which places a freeze on property values at the 2008 value for three years beginning with 2009. This is a good effort by the legislature to help stop escalating property taxes statewide which many will agree is getting out of hand. But what it also does is handicaps local governments that rely on the “reassessed growth” of the digest (growth to the tax digest due to increases in property values), as opposed to relying on the “real growth” (growth due to the new taxable properties), to produce the same or in most cases more revenue with a far lesser increase in the taxable values.
This legislation will disappoint many property owners who see HB 233 as a victory over increasing property assessments and assessors offices. But a freeze on property values is not a freeze on taxes. The state can cap property values forever but as long as mill rates can be increased taxes can, and probably will, continue to go up.
The state can now say that they have done their part to address escalating property taxes and now say that if anyone is to blame for increased property taxes it will be local government. To keep from raising property taxes local government would have to perform the difficult task of lowering mill rates to offset not only the increase due to the absence of the HTRG but also lower mill rates to offset the loss of revenue due to the freeze in property values.
I’d prefer to have delivered better news, but I’d rather inform you now in hopes of preventing you from being caught off guard when property taxes are billed later in the year.

Virgil M. Jones,
Liberty County
Tax Commissioner
Sign up for our e-newsletters