New tax assessment notices started arriving in Columbia County mailboxes, and unhappy taxpayers are packing the Evans Government Center.
“The lobby was full, and people were furious,” said Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen.
Reassessment notices showed sharp increases in property tax values in some cases and significant decreases in others, Columbia County Chief Appraiser Debbie Robertson said.
Though the changes in property values won’t be completed until after all appeals are heard, the major reason for the differences is that the notices reflect the first new assessments for most properties in four years.
“We’ve had a moratorium on any increases for the past three years; that was Georgia state law,” Robertson said. “It ended in 2011. Anything that didn’t have any changes in those three years were still at 2008 values, so we’re looking at four years’ difference in values.”
The county’s properties last were assessed in 2008, before the state Legislature passed and then-Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the three-year moratorium on reassessments.
“During that time we’ve kept up with sales, and so we’ve updated our values all along,” she said. “And when the locks came off, some of the people’s values did go up; quite a few of them.”
Some properties had changes in value during the moratorium because of additions or alterations, she said, but the properties with the largest changes were those that have not been assessed since 2008.
“Some of the people who were affected, their value went down because they were keeping up with fair market value this entire time because of changes they had made,” Robertson said. “They didn’t get hit as hard as the ones who didn’t change for four years and all of a sudden shot up.”
The county’s overall taxable value, pending appeals, is up by about 2.7 percent, Robertson said. If fair market value from 2011, without regard to the moratorium, is compared with current fair market value, though, total assessments are down by 3.3 percent, she added.
Typically, fewer than 2 percent of property owners appeal their assessments, though Robertson acknowledged that this year could be different.
“We figured this was going to be a heavy year,” she said.