Ad valorem tax, more commonly known as property tax, is a large source of revenue for local governments in Georgia. The basis for ad valorem taxation is the fair market value of the property, which is established as of January 1 of each year. The tax is levied on the assessed value of the property which, by law, is established at 40% of the fair market value unless otherwise specified by law (O.C.G.A. 48-5-7). Fair market value means "the amount a knowledgeable buyer would pay for the property and a willing seller would accept for the property at an arm's length, bona fide sale. "(O.C.G.A. 48-5-311) The amount of tax is determined by the tax rate (mill rate) levied by various entities (one mill is equal to $1.00 for each $1,000 of assessed value, or .001).
Several distinct entities are involved in the ad valorem tax process:
Property Tax bills are typically billed at the end of the year and are due 60 days later. If taxes are not paid on the property, it may be levied upon and ultimately sold.
Taxpayers are required to file at least an initial tax return for taxable property (both real and personal property) owned on January 1 of that tax year. The tax return is a listing of the property owned by the taxpayer and the taxpayer's declaration of the value of their property.
Property tax returns must be filed with the Board of Tax Assessors between January 1 and April 1 of each year. (Please note: the filing deadline for homestead exemption is also April 1). After the taxpayer has filed the initial tax return for real property, the law provides for an automatic renewal of that return each succeeding year at the value determined for the preceding year and the taxpayer is required to file a new return only as additional property is acquired, improvements are made to existing property, or other changes occur. Personal property tax returns are required to be filed each year.
A new return, filed during the return period, may also be made by the taxpayer to declare a different value from the existing value where the taxpayer is dissatisfied with the current value placed on the property by the Board of Tax Assessors. This initiates the taxpayer's appeal process if the declared value is not accepted by the Board of Tax Assessors.
Owners of mobile homes that are located in Liberty County on January 1 must pay the ad valorem taxes on the home by May 1 of each year and obtain their location permit at that time. Failure to pay the taxes and obtain the permit will result in a 10% tax penalty, issuance of a citation for appearance in Liberty County Magistrate Court or possible sale of the mobile/manufactured home.
Mobile home owners desiring to declare a different value from the existing value on the home have 45 days to file an appeal with the Board of Tax Assessors. If a taxpayer is dissatisfied with the value change or corrections, the taxpayer has the right to appeal to the Board of Equalization within 21 days of the date of the notice.
The HTRG (Homeowner's Tax Relief Grant) is the result of the homeowner's tax relief enacted by the Governor and the General Assembly of the State of Georgia in 1999. The grant, appropriated by the General Assembly and the Governor for the last several years to counties, cities and schools, had given tax relief to homeowners in an amount up to $8,000 in assessed value for all homeowners who received a homestead exemption. For the 2009 tax year, the Governor and General Assembly did not fund the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant. Declining state revenues during the current recession means there is no money for the State to give the tax relief to homeowners. Therefore, there will not be a credit for this grant on 2009 tax bills on properties with homestead exemption. According to legislation passed in 2009 (House Bill 143), the grant will only be made available in the future if state revenues grow at least 3% plus the rate of inflation. As a result, many Georgia homeowners will see a property tax increase of $200 to $300 on their 2009 tax bills.
Homestead exemptions have been enacted to reduce the burden of ad valorem taxation for Georgia homeowners. The exemptions apply to homestead property owned by the taxpayer and occupied as his or her legal residence. Homestead exemptions are deducted from the assessed value of the qualifying property (40% of the fair market value).
To receive the benefit of the homestead exemption, the taxpayer must file an initial application. The application is filed with the Liberty County Tax Assessor's Office. First time homeowners need to bring a copy of their warranty deed to insure their application is filed correctly. With respect to all of the homestead exemptions, the Tax Assessor makes the final determination as to eligibility; however, if the application is denied the taxpayer must be notified and an appeal procedure is then available to the taxpayer.
Georgia law allows for the year-round filing of homestead applications but the application must be received by April 1 of the year for which the exemption is first claimed by the taxpayer. Homestead applications received after that date will be applied to the next tax year.
Once granted, the homestead exemption is automatically renewed each year and the taxpayer does not have to apply again unless there is a change of residence, ownership, or the taxpayer seeks to qualify for a different kind of exemption.
Under authority of the State Constitution several different types of homestead exemptions are provided. These are called State Exemptions. In addition, local governments are authorized to provide for increased exemption amounts. These are called Local County Exemptions. Liberty County has such local county exemptions. The Local County Exemptions supersede the State Exemptions when the Local Exemption amount is greater than the State Exemption amount. The Tax Commissioner's office and Tax Assessor's Office can answer questions regarding the standard exemptions as well as any local exemptions that are in place.
The Local County Exemptions supersede the state exemption amount when the local exemption is greater than the state exemption.
The Standard Homestead Exemption is available to all homeowners who otherwise qualify by ownership and residency requirements and it is an amount equal to $2,000 which is deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property. The exemption applies to the maintenance and operation portion of the mill rate levy of the county and the county school system and the State mill rate levy. It does not apply to the portion of the mill rate levied to retire bonded indebtedness.
The Standard Elderly School Tax Homestead Exemption is an increased homestead exemption for homeowners 62 and older where the net income does not exceed $10,000 for the preceding year. This exemption applies only to school tax but it does include taxes levied to retire bonded indebtedness. The amount of the exemption is up to $10,000 deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property.
The Standard Elderly General Homestead Exemption is available to homeowners who otherwise qualify and who are 65 and older where the net income of the applicant and spouse does not exceed $10,000 for the preceding year. Social Security income and certain retirement income are excluded from the calculation of the income threshold. This exemption, which is in an amount up to $4,000 deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property, applies to county taxes, school taxes, and the state tax and it does apply to taxes levied to retire bonded indebtedness.
The Disabled Veterans Homestead Exemption is available to certain disabled veterans in an amount up to $50,000 deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property. This exemption applies to all ad valorem tax levies; however, it is restricted to certain types of very serious disabilities (that are service-connected disabilities) and proof of disability, either from the Veterans Administration or from a private physician in certain circumstances.
A similar exemption in the same amount is now available to the un-remarried surviving spouse of a member of the armed forces of the United States who was killed in any war or armed conflict engaged in by the United States. The surviving spouse must furnish appropriate documentation that spousal benefits are received as a result of the death of the armed forces member.
The Floating or Varying Homestead Exemption is an exemption which is available to homeowners 62 or older with gross household incomes of $30,000 or less. The exemption applies to state and county ad valorem taxes but it does not apply to school tax. The exemption is called a floating exemption because the amount of the exemption increases as the value of the homestead property is increased. However, since the exemption replaces any other state and county exemption already in place for the property, taxpayers should be very careful in making application since in many instances the granting of this exemption will initially at least increase the amount of taxes levied on the property.
If you qualify for one of the other homestead exemption listed and are age 65 or older as of January 1, you also qualify for an exemption from the State portion of ad valorem taxes in an amount equal to 100% of the value of your home and up to 10 acres of land. The value of any additional land or improvements on the same parcel will be granted the standard maximum exemption of the homestead exemption for which you otherwise qualify.
The Un-remarried Surviving Spouse of a Firefighter or Peace Officer shall be granted total exemption from all ad valorem taxes levied, if such person’s spouse, who as a member of a qualified Fire Department or Peace Officer Agency, stead Exemption is available for the surviving spouse, which provides an exemption for the full value of the homestead with respect to all ad valorem taxes for the unmarried surviving spouse of a peace officer or firefighter who was killed or died as a result of injury in the performance of their duty. Documents from the agency must be provided.
Two general types of specialized or preferential assessment programs are available for certain owners of certain types of property. One of these programs authorizes assessment at 30% rather than 40% of fair market value for certain agricultural properties being used for bona fide agricultural purposes.
The second type of preferential program is the Conservation Use program which provides that certain agricultural property, timber land property, environmentally sensitive property, or residential transitional property is to be valued and assessed for ad valorem tax purposes at its current use value rather than its fair market value.
Each of these specialized or preferential programs requires the property owner to covenant with the Board of Tax Assessors to maintain the property in its qualified use for at least 10 years in order to qualify for the preference. The Board of Tax Assessors can explain the ownership and use restrictions regarding property qualifying for either of these programs.
Historic property that qualifies for listing on the Georgia National Register of Historic Places may qualify for preferential assessment. The preferential assessment shall extend to the building or structure, the real property on which the building or structure is located, and not more than two acres surrounding the building or structure. The Board of Tax Assessors can explain the ownership and use restrictions regarding property qualifying for this assessment.
Property which qualifies for participation in the State's Hazardous Site Reuse and Redevelopment Program and which has been designated as such by the Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources may qualify for preferential assessment. This special program provides for the preferential assessment of environmental and contaminated property by freezing the value for ten years as an incentive for developers to clean up the property and return it to the tax rolls. The Board of Tax Assessors can explain the ownership and use restrictions regarding property qualifying for this assessment.
Standing timber is not taxed until sold or harvested, at which time it is taxed based upon 100 percent of its fair market value. This value is then multiplied by the appropriate mill rate to determine the tax amount due.
Manufacturers may qualify for Freeport Exemption on one or more of three categories. The categories are raw goods, goods in process and manufactured goods stored in warehouse to be shipped out of state. Specific detailed information is available and applications must be filed with the Board of Tax Assessors between January 1st and April 1st each year.
When the Board of Tax Assessors changes the value of property from the value in place for the preceding year or from the value that was returned by the taxpayer for the current year, a notice of that change must be sent to the property owner. The property owner desiring to appeal the change in value must do so within 45 days of the date of mailing of this assessment notice. The assessment appeal may be made on the basis of the taxability of the property, the value placed upon the property, or the uniformity of that value when compared to other similar properties in the county. Additionally, the appeal should not be based on any complaint about the amount of taxes levied on the property.
The appeal is filed with the Board of Tax Assessors who again reviews their valuation and the appeal filed and informs the taxpayer of its decision. If the taxpayer remains dissatisfied, the appeal is forwarded to the County Board of Equalization. A hearing is scheduled and conducted and the Board of Equalization renders its decision. If the taxpayer is still dissatisfied with the decision, an appeal to Superior Court may be made. In lieu of an administrative appeal with the Board of Equalization, an arbitration method of appeal is also available to the taxpayer. The Board of Tax Assessors can provide details regarding this procedure.
In Liberty County, the Tax Commissioner is designated ex-officio sheriff and is responsible for conducting tax sales for the collection of unpaid taxes. The Tax Commissioner must issue a tax lien (commonly known as an execution or FI.FA.) against all delinquent taxpayers.
A tax lien is released only when the delinquent taxes are satisfied in full. The Tax Commissioner will either collect the taxes from the taxpayer or levy the property and auction it at a tax sale.
The Tax Commissioner occasionally auction property at a tax sale for the collection of delinquent taxes. Tax sale proceedings are held according to the official code of Georgia sections 48-4-45 through 48-4-48. Tax sales are advertised in legal advertisement of the Coastal Courier Newspaper. The newspaper ad will run once a week for four consecutive weeks prior to the sale. Tax sales are scheduled the first Tuesday of any given month and will take place in front of the Liberty County Justice Center, 201 S. Main St. Hinesville, Georgia at 10:00 A.M. Those interested in participating in the tax sale must register prior to the tax sale. The bidding commences with the total taxes, fees, and interest on each parcel. The property is sold to the highest bidder who can actually pay that amount by noon that day.
The purchaser must provide the Tax Commissioner with a current mailing address upon tender of payment. The form of payment should be cash or a cashier’s or certified check issued or certified by a financial institution which is insured with the FDIC or FSLIC (O.C.G.A. 9-13-166). Purchasers will be issued a receipt upon payment and will be issued a recorded tax deed approximately by three weeks. Purchasers will be responsible for paying property taxes as they become due.
When real property is sold at a tax sale, whether to an individual, city, or to the county; the owner, creditor, or any person having an interest in the property may redeem the property from the holder of the tax deed.
The owner, creditor, or any other person with interest in the property, must pay the tax deed purchaser, the tax amount of the property paid at tax sale, plus any taxes paid on the property by the purchaser after the sale, plus any special assessment on the property, plus a 20% premium for the first year or fraction of a year, and a 10% premium of the amount for each additional year or fraction of years, which has elapsed since the date of sale. A premium of 20% must also be paid when the county is the purchaser. (O.C.G.A. 48-4-42)
The owner, creditor, or any other person with interest in the property may redeem the property at anytime during the twelve (12) months following the tax sale. The purchaser of the tax deed cannot take actual possession of the property during this time. The tax deed purchaser is not authorized to receive rents or make improvements to any structure on the property or grade any lot prior to this time.
When the property has been redeemed (all monies due the purchaser paid as prescribed by law), the purchaser shall then issue a quitclaim deed to the owner of the property (as stated on the FI.FA.) releasing the property from the tax deed.
This redemption of the property shall put the title conveyed by the tax sale back to the owner, subject to all liens that existed at the time of the tax sale. If the redemption was made by any creditor of the owner or by any person having any interest in the property, the amount expended by the creditor or the person interested shall constitute a first lien on the property. (O.C.G.A. 48-4-21; 48-4-41; 48-4-42; 48-4-43; 48-4-44)
After twelve (12) months from the date of the tax sale, the purchaser at the tax sale may terminate or foreclose on the owner’s right to redeem the property by causing notice(s) of the foreclosure to be served by certified mail to the owner of record and to all interest holders which appear on the public record. In addition, the notice of foreclosure is to be published in the county in which the property is located, once a week for four (4) consecutive weeks after the twelve months has elapsed.
If the redemption in not made until 30 days after the notice, then the sheriff’s cost for serving the notice(s) and the cost of publication of the notice(s) shall be added to the redemption price. (O.C.G.A. 48-4-42, 48-4-45 and 48-4-46)
Any questions about this foreclosure process should be referred to an attorney.
For further information regarding property taxation in Georgia, please visit the State of Georgia Local Government Services Division website at http://dor.georgia.gov/.