Community News Walker County's property values jump

Community News Walker County's property values jump

August 31st, 2016 by Tyler Jett in Community Walker
Houses face Lookout Mountain across the valley in Flintstone's Green Hills neighborhood. Property values have risen in this neighborhood, along with many others in Walker County.

Houses face Lookout Mountain across the valley in...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

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Ringgold’s millage rate will increase from 3 to 3.15 mills. Three meetings will soon be scheduled to allow the public the opportunity to voice their opinions on the increase.

“Our city — and really all of Catoosa County — is growing at almost a 50 percent growth rate over an 11-year period,” said Mayor Nick Millwood, citing arguments others have made to support the increase.

Millwood added he is not one of those people.

Check future editions of North Georgia Weekly and cityofringgold.com for updates once the meetings have been scheduled.

After remaining flat for several years, property values in Walker County are going up by about $50 million this year.

In a posting on its website, the county's board of education announced all property within its jurisdiction holds a combined value of about $1.312 billion. Last year, that value sat around $1.259 billion.

Although the Georgia Department of Revenue recommends reappraising all land every three years, County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said the county had not re-assessed commercial property for 18 years. The county also had not re-assessed any other property for 12 years.

What does the change in value mean for tax bills? It's too early to say. Essentially, local taxes are determined by a simple equation: the value of your property, multiplied by a tax rate. So if the property values go up, the county could lower its tax rate and get the same amount of revenue.

The school system is rolling back its taxes by about 2.6 percent.

But Heiskell has not yet announced next year's rate. A public decision should come soon, as the county will need an established tax rate before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

To be clear: The $53 million jump from last year's property values to this year's does not cover the entire county. It is the amount for all properties within the school system's jurisdiction, which does not include Chickamauga because that city runs its own system. As a result, the property values for the whole county are traditionally about 9 percent higher than that of the county school system.

If that trend continued this year, the whole county's property values would actually increase by $57 million.

Heiskell did not return a call seeking comment last week.

Ellen Mills, director of the Department of Revenue's local government services division, said the county needed to appraise its values again because for two years in a row the property values were out of whack. Every year, a member of the Department of Audits randomly looks at some sales in the county. He or she also looks at the assessed value of the land in that sale.

If the sale prices are too far away from the property's assessed value — either too high or too low — the Department of Revenue will issue a consent order.

In this case, the department issued a $165,000 threat to Walker County: Obey our orders, or get fined. In addition to other commands, the department told Heiskell to hire three more appraisers to help make sure the property values are accurate.

Terry Gilreath, Walker County's chief appraiser, did not return multiple calls seeking comment last week. But in 2014, when the county first received its consent order from the Department of Revenue, he said the county should not have ever received the order.

Gilreath said the Department of Revenue ignored a loophole that allows home buyers to pay lower taxes for one year. If a home is valued at $400,000 but you buy it for $300,000, Gilreath said, state law allows you to pay taxes on it at a $300,000 rate for one year.

If the Department of Revenue took that rule into account, Gilreath said, the county would never have gotten into trouble.

"It's really not right," Gilreath said at the time. "If they would have used our actual numbers like our system has, if they would just use those current values, we wouldn't even be sitting here talking about this."

Nevertheless, property values are now higher. One property owner in the county, who asked not to be named, shared her tax bill with the Times Free Press. It showed that while her property was valued at around $40,000 last year, it is up to $90,000 this year.

In hopes of paying less tax, property owners can appeal the new value with the tax assessor's office.


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