Ad valorem tax, more commonly known as property tax, is a large source of revenue for local governments in Georgia. The basis for ad valorem taxation is the fair market value of the property, which is established as of January 1 of each year. The tax is levied on the assessed value of the property which, by law, is established at 40% of fair market value. The amount of tax is determined by the tax rate (mill rate) levied by various entities (one mill is equal to $1.00 for each $1.000 of assessed value, or .001).
Several distinct entities are involved in the ad valorem tax process:
The County Tax Commissioner, an office established by the Constitution and elected in all counties except one, is the official responsible for receiving tax returns filed by taxpayers or designating the board of tax assessors to receive them; receiving and processing application for homestead exemption; serving as agent of the State Revenue Commissioner for the registration of motor vehicles; and the performing all functions related to billing, collecting, disbursing and accounting for and disbursing ad valorem taxes collected in this county.
The County Board of Tax Assessors, appointed for fixed terms by the county governing authority in all counties except one, is responsible for determining taxability and also for the appraisal, assessment, and the equalization of all assessments within the county.The Board of Tax Assessors notifies taxpayers when changes are made to the value of property, receive and review all appeals filed, and insure that the appeal process proceeds properly. In addition, they approve all exemptions claimed by the taxpayer.
The County Board of Equalization, appointed by the Grand Jury, is the body charged by law with hearing and adjudicating administrative appeals to property assessments made by the Board of Tax Assessors. (Note: An arbitration method of appeal is available to the taxpayer in lieu of an appeal to the Board of Equalization at the option of the taxpayer at the time the appeal is filed.
The Board of County Commissioners, or County Governing Authority (or the sole Commissioner in some counties), an elected body, establishes the annual budget for county government operations and then they levy the mill rate necessary to fund the portion of the budget to be paid for by ad valorem tax.
The County Board of Education, an elected body, establishes the annual budget for school purposes and then they recommend their mill rate, which, with very few exceptions, must be levied for the school board by the county commissioners.
The State Revenue Commissioner exercises general oversight of the entire ad valorem tax process. In addition, the State levies ad valorem tax each year in an amount which cannot exceed one-fourth of one mill (.00025).
Taxpayers are required to file at least an initial tax return for taxable property (both real and personal property) owned on January 1 of the tax year. In Sumter County, the time for filing returns in January 1 through April 1. These returns are filed with the Tax Assessor and forms are available at the office. The tax return is a listing of the property owned by the taxpayer and the taxpayer’s declaration of the value of their property.
Once the initial tax return is filed, the law provides for an automatic renewal of that return each succeeding year at the value finally determined for the preceding year and the taxpayer is required to file a new return only as additional property is acquired, improvements are made to existing property, or other changes occur. A new return, filed during the return period, may also be made by the taxpayer to declare a different value from the existing value where the taxpayer is dissatisfied with the current value placed on the property by the Board of Tax Assessors.This serves the purpose of establishing the taxpayer’s appeal rights if the declared value is changed by the Board of Tax Assessors.
Several types of homestead exemptions have been enacted to reduce the burden of ad valorem taxation for Georgia homeowners. The exemptions apply to homestead property owned by the taxpayer and occupied as his or her legal residence. (Some exception to this rule apply and your tax commissioner can explain them to you.
To receive the benefit of the homestead exemption, the taxpayer must file an initial application. In Sumter County the application is filed with the Board of Tax Assessors. Georgia law allows for the year-round filing of homestead applications but the application must be received by March 1 of the year for which the exemption is first claimed by the taxpayer. Homestead applications received after that date will be applied to the next tax year.
Once granted, the homestead exemption is automatically renewed each year and the taxpayer does not have to apply again unless there is a change of residence, ownership, or the taxpayer seeks to qualify for a different kind of exemption.
The Standard Homestead Exemption is available to all homeowners who otherwise qualify by ownership and residency requirements and it is an amount equal to $2,000, which is deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property. The exemption applies to the maintenance and operation portion of the mill rate levy of the county and the county school system and the State mill rate levy. It does not apply to the portion of the mill rate levied to retire bonded indebtedness.
The Surviving Spouse Homestead Exemption is available to the un-remarried surviving spouse and they may continue to receive the homestead exemption at the base value established for the deceased spouse, upon application and qualification. This exemption only applies to those counties that passed a local base year floating exemption.
The Standard Elderly School Tax Homestead Exemption is an increased homestead exemption for homeowners 62 and older where the net income of the applicant and spouse does not exceed $10,000 for the preceding year. A portion of Social Security income and certain retirement income are excluded from the calculation of the income threshold. This exemption applies to school tax including taxes levied to retire bonded indebtedness. The amount of the exemption is up to $10,000 deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property.
The Standard Elderly General Homestead Exemption is available to homeowners who otherwise qualify and who are 65 and older where the net income of the applicant and spouse does not exceed $10,000 for the preceding year. A portion of Social Security income and certain retirement income are excluded from the calculation of the income threshold. This exemption, which is an amount up to $4,000 deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property, applies to county, school and state tax and it does not apply to taxes levied to retire bonded indebtedness.
The Homestead Exemption for Senior Citizens is an amount equal to the actual levy for state ad valorem tax purposes on the residence and no more than 10 contiguous acres of land. This exemption is in addition to any other homestead to which the applicant qualifies.
The Disabled Veterans Homestead Exemption is available to certain disabled veterans in an amount up to $50,000 deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property. This exemption applies to all ad valorem tax levies; however, it is restricted to certain types of very serious disabilities (that are service-connected disabilities) and proof of disability, either from the Veterans Administration or from a private physician in certain circumstances.
A similar exemption in the same amount is now available to the un-remarried surviving spouse of a member of the armed forces of the United States who was killed in any war or armed conflict engaged in by the United States. The surviving spouse must furnish appropriate documentation that spousal benefits are received as a result of the death of the armed forces member.
The Peace Officer or Firefighter Homestead Exemption is available for the surviving spouse, which provides an exemption for the full value of the homestead with respect to all ad valorem taxes for the unmarried surviving spouse of a peace officer or firefighter who was killed in the line of duty.
The Tax Exemption for Farm Equipment is expanded to include tax exemption for agricultural products and equipment to include certain additional farm equipment held under a lease purchase agreement.
The Floating or Varying Homestead Exemption is an exemption which is available to homeowners 62 or older with gross household incomes of $30,000 or less. The exemption applies to state and county ad valorem taxes but it does not apply to school tax. The exemption is called a floating exemption because the amount of the exemption increases as the value of the homestead property is increased. However, since the exemption replaces any other state and county exemption already in place for the property, taxpayers should be very careful in making application since in many instances the granting of this exemption will initially at least increase the amount of taxes levied on the property.
The HTRC (Homeowner's Tax Relief Credit) is the result of the homeowner's tax relief enacted by the Governor and the General Assembly of the State of Georgia in 1999. The grant, appropriated by the General Assembly and the Governor for the last several years to counties, cities and schools, had given tax relief to homeowners in the form of a credit on their tax bills. For the 2009 tax year, the Governor and General Assembly did not fund the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant. Declining state revenues during the current recession means there is no money for the State to give the tax relief to homeowners. Therefore, there will not be a credit for this grant on 2009 tax bills on properties with homestead exemption. According to legislation passed in 2009 (House Bill 143), the grant will only be made available in the future if state revenues grow at least 3% plus the rate of inflation. As a result, many Georgia homeowners will see a property tax increase of $200 to $300 on their 2009 tax bills.
The Property Tax Deferral Program, allows qualified homestead property owners, 62 and older, with gross household income of $15,000 or less, to defer but not exempt the payment of ad valorem taxes on a part or all of the homestead property.Generally, the tax would be deferred until the property ownership changes or until such time that the deferred taxes plus interest reach a level equal to 85% of the fair market value of the property.
With respect to all of the homestead exemptions, the board of tax assessors makes the final determination as to eligibility; however, if the application is denied, the taxpayer must be notified and an appeal procedure then is available for the taxpayer.
Specialized and Preferential Assessment Programs
Two general types of specialized or preferential assessment programs are available for certain owners of certain types of property. One of these programs authorizes assessment at 30% rather than 40% of fair market value for certain agricultural properties being used for bona fide agricultural purposes.
The second type of preferential program is the Conservation Use program which provides that certain agricultural property, timber land property, environmentally sensitive property, or residential transitional property is to be valued and assessed for ad valorem tax purposes as its current use value rather than its fair market value.
Each of these specialized or preferential programs requires the property owner to covenant with the Board of Tax Assessors to maintain the property in its qualified use for at least 10 years in order to qualify for the preference. The Board of Tax Assessors can explain the ownership and use restrictions regarding property qualifying for either of these programs.
Rehabilitated and Landmark Historic Property
Historic property that qualifies for listing on the Georgia National Register of Historic Places may qualify for preferential assessment. The preferential assessment shall extend to the building or structure, the real property on which the building or structure is located, and not more than two acres surrounding the building or structure. Property under this special program must be certified by the Department of Natural Resources as rehabilitated historic property or landmark historic property. The exemption equals the difference between current fair market value and the higher of the acquisition cost or assessment of fair market value at the time the original 10-year covenant was entered.
Property which qualifies for participation in the State’s Hazardous Site Reuse and Redevelopment Program and which has been designated as such by the Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources may qualify for preferential assessment. This special program provides for the preferential assessment of environmental and contaminated property by freezing the value for ten years as an incentive for developers to clean up the property and return it to the tax rolls.;It also allows an eligible owner to recoup the eligible costs associated with the cleanup of this type property against their tax liability.
When the Board of Tax Assessors changes the value of property from the value in place for the preceding year or from the value that was returned by the taxpayer for the current year, a notice of that change must be sent to the property owner. Upon receipt of this notice, the property owner desiring to appeal the change in value must do so within 45 days of the date of mailing of this assessment notice. The appeal is filed with the Board of Tax Assessors who again reviews their valuation and the appeal filed and informs the taxpayer of its decision. If the taxpayer remains dissatisfied, the appeal is forwarded to the County Board of Equalization. A hearing is scheduled and conducted and the Board of Equalization renders it decision. If the taxpayer is still dissatisfied with the decision, an appeal to Superior Court may be made.
In lieu of an administrative appeal with the Board of Equalization, an arbitration method of appeal is also available to the taxpayer. The Board of Tax Assessors can provide details regarding this procedure.
The assessment appeal may be made on the basis of the taxability of the property, the value placed upon the property, or the uniformity of that value when compared to other similar properties in the county or the denial of an exemption. The appeal must be filed within the applicable time period.
For further information:
Sumter County Tax Commissioner
Sumter County Courthouse
500 West Lamar Street
Americus, GA 31709
Sumter County Tax Assessor’s Office
Sumter County Courthouse
500 West Lamar Street
Americus, GA 31709