New tax assessment notices started arriving in Columbia County mailboxes the weekend of May 19.
On the following Monday, taxpayers packed the lobby of the county’s tax offices in the Evans Government Center Building C, where the county’s tax offices are located.
Most of them weren’t happy.
“The lobby was full, and people were furious,” said Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen.
The reason for the unhappiness was the reassessment notices that showed sharp increases in property tax values in some cases, and significant decreases in others, said Columbia County Chief Appraiser Debbie Robertson.
While the changes in property values won’t be finalized until after all appeals are heard, the major reason for the differences is that the notices represent the first new assessments for most properties in four years.
“We’ve had a moratorium on any increases for the past three years; that was Georgia state law,” Robertson said. “It ended in 2011. Anything that didn’t have any changes in those three years were still at 2008 values, so we’re looking at four years’ difference in values.”
The county’s properties last were assessed in 2008, before the state Legislature passed and then-Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the three-year moratorium on property tax reassessments.
“During that time we’ve kept up with sales, and so we’ve updated our values all along,” she said. “And when the locks came off, some of the people’s values did go up; quite a few of them.”
Some properties have had changes in value during the moratorium because of additions or plat alterations that allowed a reassessment under the law, she said. But the properties with the largest changes, up or down, were those for which there were no reassessments during the moratorium.
“Some of the people who were affected, their value went down because they were keeping up with fair market value this entire time because of changes they had made,” Robertson said. “They didn’t get hit as hard as the ones who didn’t change for four years and all of a sudden shot up.”
The county’s overall taxable value, pending appeals, is up by about 2.7 percent, Robertson said. But if fair market value from 2011, without regard to the moratorium, is compared to current fair market value, total assessments are down by 3.3 percent, she added.
Property owners have until July 2 to appeal their assessments. Information on the appeals process is available at www.columbiacountyga.gov/assessor.
Typically, fewer than 2 percent of property owners appeal their assessments, though Robertson acknowledged that this year could bring a higher number.
“We figured this was going to be a heavy year,” she said.