Appealing your property value? Here’s what you need to know as Macon-Bibb plans millage rollback

Not all property appeals will be complete before tax bills are mailed and owners must pay taxes or face penalties

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Liz Fabian

Taxable property values in Bibb County jumped 11.5 percent in the 2022 tax assessment.

Receiving this year’s tax assessments was an eye-opening experience for some Macon-Bibb County property owners who saw values increase greatly in the recent real estate boom.

This year’s increase in the tax digest for real estate, which totals the 40 percent of the assessed value that is taxed, more than quadrupled from the average increase over the last five years.

The total taxable property values jumped about a half-billion dollars from more than $4.6 billion in 2021 to about $5.1 billion in 2022. Although that amounted to an average 11.5 percent increase in values, only 2.25 percent of county homeowners filed an appeal before the June 27 deadline.

“This is pretty normal. We’re a little bit surprised,” Chief Appraiser Crutchfield said recently. “I really expected more appeals.”

With the market driving prices higher, nearly two-thirds of the county’s roughly 66,000 taxed properties were adjusted higher and about 2,000 values were lowered, Crutchfield said.

“Some of that depends on the condition of the property,” Crutchfield said.

This year’s 1,646 appeals compare with around 1,100 filed last year and about 1,500 in 2020, Crutchfield said. Since 2017, total taxable property values in Macon-Bibb increased an average of about $124 million per year. This year the value jumped nearly $528 million since last year.

Tax Commissioner Wade McCord also expected more appeals this year based on the tone of phone calls and social media reaction.

“When she gave me that number, I was shocked,” McCord said. “When assessment notices went out… we started getting a ton of phone calls. … Wow, there’s some angry people out there.”

The public often gets confused about the roles of the two offices and calls the wrong one, he said.

The tax assessor is responsible for valuing property and the commissioner bills property owners based on the millage rate and collects taxes, among other things.

In recent weeks, Crutchfield’s office concentrated on compiling the appeals to turn over with the tax digest in mid-July.

More than 1,600 appeals to the Macon-Bibb County Tax Assessors Office are expected to be complete in December. (Liz Fabian)

As of Friday, 205 appeals have been completed in a process that must be finished within six months. Crutchfield estimates the appeals process is expected to last until December. She said it is more than a cursory review of the figures, but a double-checking of all aspects of the assessment as well as evaluating the relevance of any information a property owner filed with the appeal.

For example, if a homeowner filled in a swimming pool since the last assessment, that could lower the value of the property. A house that looks fine from the street, could be gutted inside which could escape the assessor’s eye.

The state mandates property be assessed every three years, which means a lot could have happened since the last inspection.

If the appealed property hasn’t been assessed in a while, assessors will make a field check and make sure nothing has changed and they are basing the assessment on correct data.

If a correction in the assessment is made, the property owner will be notified of the revised value. If owners are still not satisfied, they have the right to appeal again within 30 days. If that appeal fails, the matter goes to the Board of Equalization. If the tax assessors office does not adjust the value upon first review, the case automatically goes to the board, Crutchfield said.

Tax bills coming in September

McCord will not send out tax bills until Macon-Bibb County and the Bibb County School Board set this year’s millage rates, or the multiplier used to calculate how much tax is owed.

The Bibb County School System also levies taxes and sets its own millage rate. The school board will vote Aug. 11 on plans to roll back the rate from 18.099 to 16.720.

At the first county commission meeting in August, Mayor Lester Miller will recommend a 2-mill rollback from 19.901 to 17.901.

“Tax values have gone up significantly and we want to make sure that Macon-Bibb County doesn’t profit from that, therefore we rolled back the entire amount, plus some of the millage rate, to counteract the large tax assessment that people have. So, it’s our intention to make sure that no one pays any more taxes because of the increase,” Miller said last week during taping of the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Ask Mayor Miller program at 13WMAZ.

If the rate doesn’t roll back, it amounts to a tax increase and requires a series of three public hearings.

This is the second consecutive millage rollback, Miller said, and a larger rollback is planned next year due to proceeds from the Other Local Option Sales Tax, or OLOST.

An extra penny on the dollar has been collected since Jan. 1 after voters approved the tax last year. The county must put at least 20 percent of collections toward public safety with the remainder going to the general fund reserves. By law, Macon-Bibb must roll back the millage rate next year for tax relief equal to the amount added to the general fund.

The county advertised this year’s millage rollback in The Telegraph a week before the next commission meeting — also a requirement of  the law.

Once the rate is set, McCord’s office will send to the state the gross tax digest, which also includes ad valorem taxes on other property categories such as motor vehicles, timber and heavy equipment.

The state makes sure property is being assessed for its fair market value and the millage rate is set according to Georgia law.

Nearly 4,500 properties were sold in Macon-Bibb County last year. (Liz Fabian)

Fair market value is defined as the amount a knowledgeable buyer would pay for the property and a willing seller would accept.

Crutchfield said her assessors had to consider about 4,500 property sales in Bibb County for this year’s assessments.

By about the third week in August, the state is expected to approve the digest, allowing the tax commissioner to begin calculating the amount owed.

Macon-Bibb County typically sends out tax bills the first week in September and allows for split billing with half due in mid-October and the rest due in mid-November.

For those properties still under appeal, McCord will send out a bill that amounts to taxing 85 percent of the disputed value. Payment is due even if the appeal is not complete. Late charges will be applied for nonpayment, McCord said.

If the appeal lowers the assessment below that 85 percent benchmark, homeowners will get a refund check. If the appeal is not successful, they will have to pay the additional difference in the bill.

McCord urges all property owners to consult their mortgage company to see if taxes are paid through an escrow account. Each year, about a thousand people double-pay taxes the mortgage company has already taken care of, he said.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.