The Tax Digest for 2008 is ready, but local officials still have some questions.
Tax Assessor Chief Appraiser Dan Rollf went before the Bryan County Board of Commissioners Tuesday to discuss his findings and answer questions.
But, as County Administrator Phil Jones said, "it’s complicated."
Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said Rollf and the commissioners will need to go through the information again.
"We need to come up with a spreadsheet that everyone can understand," he suggested. "If we can’t understand it – how can the citizens?"
According to Jones, if there is a revaluation of property values in 2009 – which has already been proposed – and values increase but the county millage rate stays the same next year, taxes will still increase. If that increase is forecasted to happen, public hearings will be held later this year for Bryan County residents to attend.
So far this year, Rollf said in the first half of 2008, they’ve recorded 250 fair market sales. Of those, 80 were sold below the appraised values at an average of $15,000 while the other 170 sold at an average of $40,000 above their values, Rollf said.
"We’re running very close to what we’ve been looking at this whole year in terms of values," Rollf said. "But what I’m talking about and what the public is looking at are different. I’m looking at how close the sales are to the values we’re carrying in our system, which were established in 2006. Technically, you could see a little bit of an increase for property values over tax values for next year."
Rollf said he’s not sure what will happen during the remained of 2008 and "fuel prices could change everything."
Jones was optimistic, noting that the national downturn in real estate "doesn’t really exist in Bryan County."
"We’re not seeing a huge drop in the prices of real estate," Jones said, but he did note it’s been taking two to three times longer for homes on the market to sell. "The majority is selling above the county’s assessed values. That means one of two things: Either there is no downturn, or the county’s values are too low…It’s important to do the revaluation because we need to stay in line with the marketplace."
But the county’s digest has also increased – which should theoretically help keep taxpayers from taking the brunt of any possible tax increase.
Rollf said the county’s net value increased by more than eight percent from 2007 to 2008, by about $84.3 million, to a net value of $1.12 billion.
"This growth can be attributed to new construction, commercial and industrial revaluation, new subdivisions, minor land splits, motor vehicle increases and personal property value increases," Jones said.
Rollf said the next step in the Tax Assessors office is to continue reviewing each parcel of land prior to changing values in 2009, which he said will take the rest of the year. By September, he said all the land in Bryan County will be reclassified.
The county’s next step is to take the prepared tax digest and compare it to the proposed budget, Jones said.
"We’ll see what we think we need to generate in terms of money and once we have that determined, we will determine the millage rate and have the public meetings from there," he said.
In other business:
- Ted Akins, Secretary for the Development Authority, gave a quick update of the Interstate Centre in Bryan County. There are currently 320 jobs, with 120 more to come, in the first phase and while Akins didn’t know exactly how many are Bryan County residents, he said they are working on finding that out. In phase two, the Technology Park of Atlanta is slated to build a warehouse on 54 acres with an initial investment of $15-18 million. In phase three, Akins said the county is "on the short list for a very large project," which could take up half of the third phase.
- Jones said the DFACS building’s new site off Spur 144 is looking to be 10,200 square feet, placed next to the health department. The project went out for bids Aug. 6 and they hope to open the bidding Sept. 9, with the project to begin shortly after that.
In P&Z business:
- Donald Driggers requested a change from AR-1 to A-5 for continued use of an existing sand mining operation in Pembroke. The 13.52 acre tract is currently accessed by Deloach Road. During the public hearing, complaints were voiced by families on Deloach Road, who were concerned about continued use of the road by dump trucks, especially around the time their children catch the school bus. The City of Pembroke spoke in favor of approving the rezoning. Commissioner Ed Bacon made the approval motion, under the condition that the entrance road be moved to the north-east portion of the site, away from residents.
State homestead exemptions could end
An annual state tax homestead exemption has reportedly been deferred, but it should not impact Bryan County taxpayers – yet.
According to an email County Administrator Phil Jones got from Janice Tittle with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), Governor Sonny Perdue is estimating putting $400 million homestead exemptions on hold for fiscal year 2009.
If that happens, it would mean each Bryan County taxpayer would pay an additional $165 on taxes next year.
"The taxpayer relief act, which was instituted when Roy Barnes was in office, was supposed to slowly, over time, creep its way up to $20,000 in homestead exemptions for counties," Jones said. "The way the act works, the tax loss is paid back to the counties by the state, so there is no net loss in revenue."
Jones said the exemption was frozen at $8,000 a few years back. Now, the governor has reportedly said he wants to cancel the Homeowner’s Tax Relief Grant all together.
"The ACCG indicates that the governor can only defer it – so it would take the legislature to do an abatement," he said. "If they did that, they’d be cutting their throats because they are the ones who have said residents deserve this relief. Bryan County residents should tell their local legislators they are against this possibility of a tax increase."
Jones said, for now, homeowners won't have to pay the difference. The ACCG’s immediate advice is to be aware of what might happen, but to continue doing business as usual.
Commissioner Rick Gardner pointed out Bryan County has "gone above and beyond the (state’s) homestead exemption" assistance and now the state is negating their portion of the relief.
"This is a state issue," Gardner said. "Residents in Bryan County need to call their state representatives to help the state understand their opinion of this."
To contact Bryan County’s state representatives:
Senator Eric Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-1577.
Representative Bob Lane can be reached at email@example.com or 764-7450.
Representative Ron Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 966-5665.
-by Jessica Holthaus