Georgia legislators this year amended laws governing procedures for appealing county tax assessments on real and personal property. The changes took effect July 1.
In 2011, the Clerk of Superior Court was mandated by law to provide oversight, administration and administrative assistance to the county Board of Equalization (BOE). This year, those provisions were amended, designating the Clerk of Superior Court as the “Appeal Administrator” for the BOE and requiring the Clerk to provide administrative and clerical services necessary for taxpayers to appeal decisions of the Board of Tax Assessors (BOA) affecting taxation of real and personal property.
The BOA has three members appointed by the Board of Commissioners primarily to assess and establish fair-market values for all real and personal property within the county. The BOA staff is trained by the Georgia Department of Revenue in property-tax assessment and equalization. Lamar Sims is the Director of the BOA.
The BOE is established by law to provide an independent panel in each county to decide taxpayer appeals of determinations made by the BOA concerning taxability, uniformity of assessment, value and denials of homestead exemption.
In Rockdale County, the BOE currently consists of three regular members and five alternate members appointed to staggered terms by the grand jury. Members and alternates serve three-year terms. They must complete 40 hours of training in appraisal and equalization processes and procedures provide by the Georgia Department of Revenue within the first year after they are appointed and eight hours of update training annually thereafter. Beginning Jan. 1, 2016, BOE members and alternates must complete 20 hours of similar instruction within the first year after they are reappointed for another term.
The BOA is required by law to complete revision of tax values and send out property-tax assessments by July 15 of each year. Upon receipt of a tax assessment notice, a taxpayer has 45 days from the date the assessment is mailed to appeal. The appeal must be sent to the BOA on a form approved by the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue.
Upon receiving the taxpayer’s notice of appeal, the BOA reviews its preliminary assessment to determine whether a correction or amendment is merited. If changes or corrections are made, the board sends a notice to the taxpayer and, if the taxpayer concurs, the appeal is dismissed and the new assessed value used for taxation purposes. Taxpayers who disagree with any changes made are required to notify the BOA within 30 days of the date the notice of change was mailed.
The BOA then has up to 90 days from the date of receipt of the taxpayer’s notice of appeal to review it and notify the taxpayer of any corrections or changes. The property valuation asserted by the taxpayer on a property-tax return or notice of appeal becomes the assessed fair-market value of the property for the tax year under appeal if the BOA fails to respond within this period. If no valuation was submitted by the taxpayer, the appeal proceeds to the BOE, which requires the BOA to forward the notice of appeal to the Appeal Administrator (i.e., the Clerk of Superior Court) for scheduling on the BOE hearing calendar.
Within 15 days after receipt of the notice of appeal, the Appeal Administrator sets a date for a hearing within 30 days of the date of notification — but not earlier than 20 days — and notifies the taxpayer and BOA of the date and time for the hearing. If more than one property is under appeal, the BOE is required to consolidate the appeals in one hearing upon the request of the taxpayer.
Alternatively, the taxpayer may appeal some assessments or issues to an arbitrator or a hearing officer (for non-homestead real property with a fair-market value in excess of $750,000 and any contiguous non-homestead real property owned by the same taxpayer or for one or more wireless properties with a value of more than $750,000).
The process is much like a civil-court hearing. The taxpayer and assessors’ board staff are required to present evidence relating to the issue on appeal, i.e., taxability, uniformity of assessment, value or denial of homestead exemption. The taxpayer has the option of presenting evidence first or waiting until assessors’ board staff concludes its presentation. Each party is typically allowed 10 minutes to present its case. The standard used for deciding issues is a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning that the party with the most convincing evidence prevails. The assessors’ board has the burden of proof for issues involving taxability but, with respect to an issue over tax exemption, the taxpayer has the burden. Either party has the right to respond to the other party’s evidence on any issue and to cross-examine all witnesses.
The Rockdale County BOE conducts appeal hearings between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. All hearings are held in the jury assembly room on the lower level of the Rockdale County Courthouse.
The Clerk of Courts provides to taxpayers helpful advice on the BOE Appeals Process at http://rockdaleclerk.com/files/BOE-Brochure.pdf. The Clerk’s staff provides all administrative services for the BOE including processing appeals, scheduling hearings, compensating board members, facilitating appointments by the grand jury and expediting appeals of BOE decisions to superior court.
Ruth Wilson is the Clerk of Superior and State Courts in the Rockdale Judicial Circuit. For more information, go to rockdaleclerk.com