Town Hall Explaining Property Valuation Held
By Josh Gish
Tax officials held a town hall meeting at New Hope Baptist Church aimed at clearing up any questions citizens may have had regarding their 2018 tax notice. The event was hosted by Upson County District 2 County Commissioner James Ellington. Changes in property value assessments and the valuation process were discussed at length.
Property owners may have realized their appraised land values took an upsurge in 2018 when compared to past years’ assessments, and the primary cause of these changes has been traced back to market volatility and a failure by previous appraisal staff to make the necessary adjustments.
Upson County Tax Commissioner Andy Chastain commented, “As far as appraisal, I have to stay within certain guidelines. Your county commissioners have to stay within certain guidelines when it comes to taxation… myself, Charles’ (McKeehan) office, we want to be transparent and let everybody know what’s going on. Until I got in this position, I didn’t know how all the pieces fit together. I feel as taxpayers, you all need to know how it works.”
Many questions have been raised in the community surrounding the sharp rise in property values for 2018, even if homeowners have made no alterations or improvement to their property. These changes were necessary as property values have since recovered from the financial crisis of 2008.
Following the subprime mortgage crisis, each and every landowner should have realized a drastic decrease in the market value of real estate cumulatively. However, the negative trends of The Great Recession had shifted direction in Georgia by 2013 as the grand majority of housing markets on a county level began rising back towards equilibrium.
According to Upson’s Chief Appraiser, Charles McKeehan, “In 2013, whoever was here at that point in time doing my job honestly should have taken a hard, hard look at the values and should have made a change right then and there. Then in ’14, ’15, and ’16 they should have done the same thing. Unfortunately, they did not.”
Previous officials’ negligence of an improving market and their failure to adjust appraisal values accordingly left the adjustments noticed in the 2018 tax bill to arrive as an unpleasant surprise for some property owners. Appraised values countywide were reported in the town hall to have increased by approximately 20 percent.
Local tax officials are mandated by regulators at the state level to calculate an assessed value of property in Upson County which is 40 percent of that property’s fair market value. This assessed value must coincide with the qualified market sales value of that property to a very specific ratio.
State officials allow tax assessed values a variance of 10 percent above or below qualified market sales value to avoid reviews from state officials, and properties must be appraised within 5 percent of qualified market sales in order for Upson County to collect all public utilities revenue.
McKeehan explained further, “This is important because if we do not collect all of that public utility money, guess who has to pay it? We do. It has to be paid, and it is paid through a millage increase or some other form… Between 2013 and 2017, approximately $180,000 - $200,000 per year was left uncollected in Upson County. It’s a sad fact that it was not collected. The reason it wasn’t collected? We weren’t within 5 percent of where we needed to be. Therefore, public utilities only had to pay what our ratio was.”
Counties in Georgia face further consequences from the state for failing to adhere to the variance for two consecutive years. These penalties include dissolved access to state grants, as well as a $79,000 fine from the state of Georgia. Additionally, the state administered fine is billed on an annual basis until the values are corrected by the county’s tax assessor’s office.
In regards to Upson County’s ratio, Chastain claimed, “Each county gets a sales ratio rating each year. In 2017, guess where Upson County was? Number two, the second lowest out of the state… Charles had to come in and fix something because back in 2014 when we had a review, we failed. We failed again in 2017 so he had to fix it. We were going to be fined $79,000 plus lose all that public utility money.”
Several exemptions were also noted during the meeting including the $2,000 homestead exemption all property owners in the county are offered. Individuals 62 and older are eligible to apply for the L-3 exemption for a $15,000 break on the taxable value of your tax bill. Homeowners with disabilities are eligible for the L-7, L-8, and L-9 exemptions, while disabled veterans may also apply for further exemptions. All exemptions can be discussed at the Upson County Tax Assessor’s Office.
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