Inflation cuts into savings from projected Bibb County property tax rate rollback

Property owners in Macon-Bibb County have until July 10 to appeal property values and tax assessments while the digest is finalized


Liz Fabian

Bibb County mailed tax assessment notices May 26 and appeals are due by July 10.

The Bibb County property tax rate is expected to drop nearly a third this summer, but that doesn’t mean your tax bill will be 30% cheaper than last year.

Although Mayor Lester Miller projected a rollback of at least 5 mills, inflated home prices and the cost of building materials are driving up property values which determine how much you owe in taxes. July 10 is the deadline to file an appeal of your assessed value.

One mill represents $1 in tax for each $1,000 in taxable value.

In Georgia, property owners pay taxes on 40% of the fair market value, which on a $100,000 home would be $40,000. With the Miller administration’s projected 12.901 millage rate, Bibb County taxes on that $100,000 home would be about $516.

That’s only a portion of the local tax bill because the Bibb County Board of Education also levies its own taxes and will set its millage rate in August.

One of the reasons values have increased this year is inflation. For the first time in five years, the Macon-Bibb County Tax Assessors office recalculated the table that sets the cost of materials to rebuild as new, which has risen about 15%, Chief Appraiser Andrea Crutchfield said.

“That has changed here over the last five years significantly,” Crutchfield said.

Last year, property values also shot up due to a red-hot real estate market, and Crutchfield said prices remain on the high side and they have hardly seen any declines at all.

“Yes, we’re still up. I know a lot of people think that it’s cooled,” she said. “I would say… maybe things are staying on the market a little bit longer, but still selling for more.”

Before appeals, the property tax portion of the digest has risen about 17% over last year’s values, which were up about 10% over the prior year at about this time last year, Crutchfield said.

The Macon-Bibb County Tax Assessors Office recently moved to 688 Walnut St. and is about three weeks behind in mailing assessments. (Liz Fabian)

Several factors go into calculating the value of your home, including the cost per square foot based on sales of comparable houses in the neighborhood, and the overall condition of the property.

“Our value tends to be replacement cost new minus depreciation. So, of course, if it’s not a brand-new house then it gets some depreciation and those depreciation numbers have to change,” Crutchfield said.

Some property owners are puzzled when their values go up without them making any major changes or renovations, but housing prices in the area are the main metric.

Crutchfield said that the state keeps track of every property that sells to monitor whether the county is properly assessing values.

“They make sure that we’re updating our values that correspond with those sales, and if we don’t, the county gets fined,” Crutchfield said.

One thing she wants to make clear – tax assessors do not adjust the figures based on the county’s proposed rollback.

“That’s kind of an important piece that a lot of people don’t understand,” Crutchfield said. “We’re not just doing this because the mayor rolled back five mills and we’re increasing the values to make up for those mills.”

Since the tax digest – the sum of all property values in the county – is expected to be higher than last year, the county is expected to roll back the millage rate further to compensate for that increased value. Without that rollback, the law requires three public hearings for a local government to keep the additional revenue, which is considered a tax increase.

The digest should be final in August when Miller is expected to adjust the projected rollback.

“Yes, we will roll the millage rate back again once the digest is complete,” Miller said Friday afternoon. The exact amount won’t be known until later this summer.

The projected 5-mill rollback compensates for money coming in from the Other Local Option Sales Tax that was overwhelmingly approved by voters a couple of years ago.

“We expect to have another reduction next year. So, in about a three-year total, we could get somewhere upwards of a 10-mill-reduction in our property taxes,” Miller said during the most recent Ask Mayor Miller program.

Your property value too high?

Because property owners only have 45 days to appeal from the date the notices were sent May 26, Crutchfield urges everyone considering an appeal to do so as soon as possible. Appeal letters must be post-marked July 10 or before.

If you think your value is too high, make sure the square footage of your property is correct on the tax assessor’s website.

“That can make a big difference as far as the value goes. We’ve already had an appeal that we corrected because the square footage was incorrect,” Crutchfield said. “We’re going to fix it… . We want to make sure we get it right.”

Another item to double-check is the number of bathrooms.

“Make sure their information is correct,” she said. “And then I would say just to look at properties in your area. You know, some people aren’t aware that things are selling in their area… so, it’s a big shock to them.”

The condition of a property also is a factor in setting values, but the only time assessors go inside a home is on appeal.

“There’s issues that you may not can see from the outside, and so generally we send two of our appraisers then at that point in time upon the taxpayer’s request,” Crutchfield said.

“If you have questions, the earlier the better,” Crutchfield said. “If you wait ‘till the last day and there’s something going on, or you get something wrong, and it’s hard to fix it.”

For example, the assessors’ office has already received appeals that did not contain the required signature, and had to be returned to the sender. If an unsigned appeal comes in at the deadline, there will not be time for it to be processed and the property owner will lose the ability to appeal.

The Macon-Bibb County Board of Tax Assessors is now located in Suite 200 at 688 Walnut St. after moving from 653 Second St. earlier this year. (Liz Fabian)

It’s been a busy year for the tax assessors’ office, which moved this year from 653 Second St. to 688 Walnut St. Crutchfield is down six employees, and the staff of 20 people is about three weeks behind in sending out notices this year, she said.

After July 10, they will work as quickly as possible to get the appeals filed and turned over to Tax Commissioner Wade McCord by mid-month.

“We’ll have about a week to try and get everything together and all the appeals, make sure everything’s entered, basically,” Crutchfield said.

Assessments under appeal receive a tax bill for 85% of the assessed value, but may owe more or could be eligible for a refund depending on the outcome of the appeal, which could take months.

Georgia grants a $2,000 Homestead Exemption from county and school taxes for property owners on their primary residence, but applications must be turned into the tax commissioner’s office by April 1, or the exemption won’t be granted until the following year.

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