County manager: Past due taxes not crux of budget woes

SHEILA MATHEWS ::: sheila@the-grip.net

A number of local residents have publicly spoken out against the one-mill property tax increase approved Oct. 1 by the Spalding County Board of Commissioners, alleging that the hike would not be necessary if the collection of unpaid taxes – including those that remain outstanding due to several years’ backlog of Board of Equalization appeals – was enforced.

Spalding County Manager William Wilson later said that although some critics have been outspoken, claiming the county’s fiscal woes are attributable to the non-collection of past due taxes, that is not the case.

He said that officials routinely estimate a percentage of previous years’ past due taxes that are projected to be received and include that in the upcoming fiscal year general fund budget.

According to Wilson, approximately $900,000 – representing the future collection of past-due taxes – was included in the FY2014 general fund budget. Officials say altogether, approximately $4.75 million in past due taxes remains upaid.

“If that $900,000 wasn’t budgeted, we would have to have had another three-quarters mill increase (for a total increase of 1.75 mills) on top of the one-mill increase we have approved,” he said.

The Grip sought to obtain hard numbers correlating recent years’ projections of past due tax collections and actual receipts, but Administrative Services Director Jinna Garrison was unavailable to provide those figures. The Grip will post those online as we receive them.

Officials acknowledge that outstanding property taxes are owed due to long outstanding Board of Equalization (BoE) appeals, but say progress is moving forward.

Wilson said residents who seek to appeal their property’s value are afforded the right to do so, and are not required to pay the disputed tax bill until their BoE appeal has been heard.

“There’s a very formal process that must be followed if you want to appeal your value,” he said. “There’s nothing in state law that says you have to pay your taxes to appeal its value. We probably have people out there from 2010, 2011 and 2012 who have appealed their taxes, but haven’t paid a penny of it.”

Following the BoE appeal, if property owners wish to continue the process and have their dispute heard in Superior Court, they then have 30 days in which to pay 85 percent of the original tax bill.

However, penalties and interest do accrue throughout the appeals process.

Spalding County had fallen very much behind in the BoE appeals process, but in August, the appeals began in earnest with some cases dating back to 2009.

Spalding County Chief Tax Assessor Larry Lilliard on Monday provided county commissioners with updated figures that accounted for all BoE appeals heard through Oct. 18, and reported on the total changes that have been made in the appealed properties assessed value.

Lilliard indicated that 714 appeals had been completed, with 259 property owners seeing a change in assessed value and 455 seeing no change. He said in 317 appeals, the property owner did not appear for their appointment.

The initial combined assessed value of those 714 properties was $76,587,668. The first step in the appeal process – a review of the assessment with members of the Tax Assessor’s Office – resulted in concessions of 5.9 percent that reduced the cumulative value of those 535 properties to $72,710,164.

The BoE reviews then resulted in additional reductions of 1.1 percent, or $844,313. Of the 714 BoE appeals that have been heard, the combined reduction in the original assessed values totals $4,721,817.

While the outstanding BoE appeals have been approximately half completed, those filed on 2013 property assessments have not yet begun. In 2012, 4,904 property owners filed appeals. This year, that number significantly dropped to 1,355. Ω

 

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