Like most of the Chattanooga area, property values are rising in Northwest Georgia counties including Catoosa and Walker.
Assessed values of the 23,000 residential properties reassessed this year in Walker County have increased by an average of 14% since they were last appraised in 2016.
Despite the large increase, very few have appealed their home's reassessment, said Walker County Chief Appraiser Terry Gilreath.
"It's probably the least amount of appeals we've ever had," he said, adding that he finds that very surprising.
Catoosa County, which had a similar increase to Walker in assessed values of residential properties at 14.5%, received nearly twice as many appeals this year as it did previously, going from 77 in 2020 to 141 in 2021 just ahead of the July 12 filing deadline.
Assessed values are determined using the sales prices of homes across the county, and many homes in Walker County are selling for $30,000-$50,000 more than the asking price, Gilreath said.
"We've got numerous people coming from California, New Jersey, Texas; they're paying whatever to get out here," he said. "It's definitely a seller's market, but the problem with a seller's market is it's not a taxpayer-friendly market."
According to annual market reports from the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, the median sales price of homes in Walker County went from $115,000 in 2016 to $159,000 in 2020, an increase of about 38%.
By Georgia state law, assessed values must be between 36% and 44% of a home's fair market value, Gilreath said.
In Catoosa, assessed values are now 36.57% of fair market values, down from 39.5% in 2019.
Counties must raise or lower the base value on which every home is assessed in order to maintain the state-mandated value ratio, and Gilreath said Walker put that off as long as possible.
For this new assessment, Walker's base value increased from $52 to $78 per square foot.
Catoosa also adjusted its residential base value this year, going from $55 to $65 per square foot.
"Homes are selling for unbelievable amounts of money, and unfortunately, that winds up affecting our ratios," Gilreath said.
If Walker did not increase its base value, the value ratio would have been 32%, which is below the state-mandated range. The increase in the base value brought Walker's value ratio up to 36.7%, which is barely within the mandated range, Gilreath said.
He emphasized that an increase in a taxpayer's property value does not necessarily mean an increase in the amount they will pay in taxes. Millage rates — which will be set later this summer by governing bodies of counties, cities and school systems — determine the amount of taxes owed.
Gilreath said governing bodies are supposed to adjust their millage rates so an increase in assessed values doesn't result in increased revenue, but they are not required to do so.
While the recently mailed reassessment notices include an estimate of the amount of taxes owed, Gilreath stressed that the amount is only an estimate and his office does not collect taxes. He said his office has received up to 11 checks in a day from people who believe their reassessment notice is a bill.
Gilreath said the county's goal is to re-evaluate properties annually instead of basing reassessments on several years of data in order to avoid large increases in the future.
But overall, citizens seem to understand the necessity of increasing their properties' assessed value once the reasons are explained, as the low number of appeals also indicates.
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