Property tax bill may not require year-round appeals

DALTON, Ga. -- Changes in the Georgia Senate to a proposed property tax reform bill would drop a requirement for year-round appeals, but local officials say the changes still would boost local governments' costs.

The original bill proposes more than 40 changes to property tax law, including requiring local governments to mail annual assessment notices and allowing property owners to appeal at any time. Most counties now send notices only when property values change after a reappraisal.

An amendment would require owners to appeal within 45 days.

Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said the change means counties would not have to handle year-round appeals.

"But they will have to send out assessment notices to everybody, every year, so there will be that additional cost to them," Mr. Mueller said.

The change isn't enough to reconcile some local leaders to the bill.

PDF: Senate Bill 346 PDF: ACCG summary of Senate Bill 346

Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb said property values are fair under the current system.

"Our appraisals are reviewed by the state Department of Revenue; it's not like we don't ever get audited," Mr. Babb said. "Now, we just got another mandate from the state Legislature without them sending any money."

Gordon County Commission Chairman Alvin Long agreed.

"We've got 27,000 pieces of property, and to send bills out for people who have no changes whatsoever (would be costly)," he said. "It's never been a problem, why should it be a problem now?"

But state Sen. Jim Butterworth, R-Clarksville, a sponsor of the bill, said it's meant to protect property owners. Even if sending annual assessment notices costs a little more, it's the right thing to do, he said.

"There's a lot of subjectivity to the property tax assessment process," Sen. Butterworth said. "Now that property values are declining for the first time in many of our lifetimes, we felt, in the Legislature, there should be a vehicle to help property owners react to that."

Mr. Mueller said the substitute bill moved this week from the finance to the rules committee.

He said the full Senate is expected to vote in the next few weeks.