Nelson Brooks and Michael Jones became the involuntary leaders of a small revolution when other property owners in their community joined their complaints about tax assessments under a new state law.
Brooks, Jones and their neighbors from Lincoln County are part of a group of similar owners across Georgia convinced that local tax assessors are not lowering property values to reflect recent discounted sales triggered by foreclosures. The total official tax digest in Lincoln County dropped 1.5 percent in the past years, but the owners say the market has plunged more like 10 percent to 20 percent.
“The existing revenue stream is being protected at the expense of compliance with the new Georgia laws,” Brooks wrote in a letter to the state Department of Revenue.
Lincoln County’s chief appraiser, Kenny Adair, denies he has acted to keep assessments high to maximize property taxes, but the author of the law, Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, said counties across the state are doing just that.
His legislation requires local assessors to use recent property sales as the basis for their appraisals.
“That’s so simple, and they’re having a tough time doing that,” said Rogers, who is the Senate majority leader.
State Revenue Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie said he has heard the static about the new law.
“We get complaints about that all over the state,” he said.
His department provides training to local assessors but doesn’t oversee any of their activity. The oversight comes from each local board of assessors, which reviews the countywide digest, and the board of equalization, which handles appeals for parcels.
The law creates new avenues of appeal, including arbitration and independent assessments. Most of those procedures are just now being activated, so it’s hard to tell how well they’re working.
Clint Mueller, the legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, lobbied on behalf of local counties when the General Assembly considered the law change, and he recently appealed his own home assessment. He said the law confuses the public about how it changes the assessment process.
For example, he said, assessors now include discounted sales in their mass assessment for the countywide digest, but that doesn’t mean linking each parcel to two or three comparable, recent sales the way a bank’s appraiser would.
“I think that’s where the disconnect comes in and where the taxpayer thinks the county is playing games with them,” he said.
Rogers will meet next month with Mueller, property owners and the trade association for assessors about revisions needed in the law. He predicted he would add tougher penalties for assessors who refuse to abide by it.