Next time politicians decide to meddle in the free market in order to pander to voters, someone should remind them about this year’s property tax reassessments.
When Columbia County’s reassessment notices went out a couple of weeks ago, many property owners got a case of sticker shock. Some were seeing drastic increases in the taxable value of their property, and others were disturbed to see the value of their homes plummet. Why the wild swings?
Naturally, many of those property owners flocked to the county tax assessor’s office, first to vent, and then to find out how to challenge their assessments.
Chief Assessor Debbie Robertson says that in any given year, most taxpayers offer no comment on their reassessments. Some will call the office to ask questions and be satisfied, while fewer than 2 percent of all taxpayers will go to the trouble to actually file an appeal of their property valuation.
That number is expected to be higher this year – and it’s almost entirely because of meddling politicians.
In theory, here is the way property valuations are supposed to work: Each year, the county tax assessor’s office is charged with reconciling the value of county property with free-market values. If the free market says your home is worth more this year, then its taxable value is supposed to rise. If your home is worth less, your taxes likewise should decline.
Columbia County has experience phenomenal growth in recent years, and increased demand means rising property values. Despite nationwide economic doldrums, most county property is worth more each year. Naturally, that’s good news for property owners: it represents rising value for their largest investment.
The problem this year, however, is that the previous four years of rising (or falling) values hit all at once.
Georgia legislation passed in 2009 placed a three-year moratorium on any increases in taxable value of property. An additional, artificial restriction passed in 2010. The problem with such free-market meddling is that it doesn’t actually affect the free market; it only reflects how the government sets taxable value, while the free market continues to determine what property really is worth.
The state-imposed limits ended abruptly this year. Local governments (not just Columbia County, but all of them in the state) are now adjusting taxable values, which haven’t changed in three years, to match this year’s free-market property values, which have been changing with the market all along.
Thus, the sticker shock.
The good news for the surprised taxpayers is that filing an appeal is simple, and usually free. All of the necessary information is available at www.columbiacountyga.gov/assessor, and the infinitely patient staff of the tax assessor’s office is available to answer any questions (and, unfortunately, to sometimes get an earful from venting taxpayers) at (706) 312-7474.
Come to think of it, perhaps those disgruntled taxpayers ought to reserve a little irritation for the politicians who decided it was a good idea to try to manipulate the free market.