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. 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. " 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 Taxes are due by January 10th of each year. If taxes are not paid on the property, it may be levied upon and ultimately sold. When mailing in tax payments a United States Postal Service postmark will be accepted (not metered post marks).
For past due property taxes, interest will be added to your tax bill on the 10th of each month at a rate of prime plus 3% divided by 12 months. A 5% penalty is added after 120 days and every 120 days, thereafter (max 20%).
For past due mobile homes, interest will be added to your tax bill on the 10th of each month at a rate of prime plus 3% divided by 12 months. A 10% penalty is added April 2nd each year.
If you still remain unpaid after 12 months, your account will be turned over to our collection agency and admin/levy fees up to $215.00 plus will be added to your account. These fees will cover the cost of certified notices as well as a title search to prepare your property for tax sale. Your property will also be posted and photographed at some point before the sale. The four weeks prior to the sale your property will be advertised in the Hiawassee Local newspaper with additional advertising cost added. We urge you to pay your taxes on time or make arrangements to avoid these additional fees.
Taxpayers are required to file at least an initial tax return for taxable property (both real and personal property) owned on January 1 of the 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.
Personal property tax returns (PT-50p) are to be filed annually with the Board of Assessors without regard to change in value or use. Note: If you no longer own the listed items, you must contact the Tax Assessors office or you will be taxed on it.
Property tax returns for real estate must be filed with the Towns County Tax Assessor between January 1 and April 1 of each year where property has changed or been acquired. The filing deadline is April 1 of each year. The taxpayer may elect not to file a property tax return if they have no changes that would affect the value of their property from the previous year. Failure to file a required return will subject the taxpayer to a 10% penalty on the value of the property not returned plus interest and possibly penalties from the date the tax would have been due.
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.
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 – some exceptions to this rule apply and your Tax Commissioner can explain them to you. Homestead exemptions are deducted from the assessed value of the qualifying property (40% of the fair market value). Then, the millage rate is applied to arrive at the amount of ad valorem tax due.
To receive the benefit of the homestead exemption, the taxpayer must file an initial application. The application is filed with the Towns 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 Board of Assessors 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. The deadline for filing an application for a homestead exemption in Towns County is April 1. 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. Towns 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 State exemptions include:
In addition to the various homestead exemptions that are authorized, the law also provides a Property Tax Deferral Program whereby qualified homestead property owners 62 and older with gross household income of $15,000 or less may defer but not exempt the payment of ad valorem taxes on a part or all of the homestead property. Generally, the tax would be deferred until the property ownership changes or until such time that the deferred taxes plus interest reach a level equal to 85% of the fair market value of the property.
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. These exemptions must be applied for by April of each year.
Owners of mobile homes that are located in Towns County on January 1 must pay the ad valorem taxes on the home by April 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 Towns County Magistrate Court or possible sale of the mobile/manufactured home.
Bills for mobile/modular homes in Towns County are usually mailed January 2. All mobile homes must be registered in the Tax Assessors office. You must display your decal. If you do not do so, you can be sent to magistrate court. Contact the Tax Assessors’ office for more information at (706) 896-3984.
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.
In Georgia, property is assessed at 40% of the fair market value unless otherwise specified by law. (O.C.G.A. Sect; 48-5-7) Property is assessed at the county level. The State Revenue Commissioner is responsible for examining the tax digests of counties in Georgia in order to determine that property is assessed uniformly and equally between and within the counties. (O.C.G.A. Sect; 48-5-340)
The tax bills received by property owners will include both the fair market value and the assessed value of the property. 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. Sect; 48-5-2)
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 that does not agree with the appraised value on their tax bill and wants to appeal the change in value must do so within 45 days of the date of mailing of this assessment notice. (O.C.G.A. Sect; 48-5-311). 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. The appeal must be filed within the applicable time period and cannot be filed after that time. Additionally, the appeal should not be based on any complaint about the amount of taxes levied on the property.
Property owners can file an appeal with the Board of Assessors. If no agreement is reached, the appeal is automatically forwarded to the Board of Equalization. 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.
If the owner is absent from their residence because of duty in the armed forces, a friend or family member may file on behalf of said owner. Said notice shall be filed within 90 days of the notice of value from the Board of Assessors.
For further information regarding property taxation in Georgia, please visit the State of Georgia Local Government Services Division website at http://dor.georgia.gov/.