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Ironing out some of the tax procedure wrinkles

In 2001, I was elected to serve the Citizens of McDuffie County as their Tax Commissioner. I enjoy my job and feel I should do anything in my power to make life easier for McDuffie County residents.

With this in mind, I feel I need to take this opportunity to clarify some property tax procedures that have caused some confusion.

Several citizens have asked me why the property tax bills have had a due date other than the set date of Dec. 20 of each year. I'd like to explain to the residents the time frame of receiving a tax bill on your property. Although the Tax Commissioner has no authority in the Tax Assessor's Office, we do work together in getting the tax bills to the property owner.

When you purchase property, the deed and plat are recorded in the Clerk of Superior Court's records, The Tax Assessor receives a copy of the recorded deed and plat. The Tax Assessor assigns a map and parcel identification number to this property using the county land maps. The assessor compares the selling price with the surrounding property values. If the price is out of line, the assessor goes to the property to measure and inspect the property verifying the listed data. Sales questionnaires are mailed to new property owners to obtain the most accurate information regarding property sales. The assessor prepares valuations for real (residential/agricultural/commercial/industrial land and permanent improvements) and personal property (airplanes/business inventories, fixtures and machines/boats) each year based on ownership as of Jan. 1.

The assessor mails you an assessment notice giving you a value on your property and you have 45 days to file an appeal on the value. If your appeal has been finalized at the end of the appeal time your property is listed with a value, map and parcel, and the name and address provided on the deed and entered in our computer system. If your appeal has not been finalized, your property is listed as temporary billing.

Every three years the Georgia Department of Revenue reviews each parcel of property, whether real, personal or commercial, to make sure the values of each meet the guidelines maintaining fair market values and equity set by the Department of Revenue. This procedure, called a "total revaluation," can delay every part of the process due to the quantity of revaluations, reassessment notices mailed, and appeals filed. This along with annual ownership changes, mapping changes, address changes, construction changes, mobile home revaluation, processing exemption and special assessment applications bogs down the Tax Assessor's staff and causes delays that can not be helped.

A ripple effect occurs because the preliminary values needed by the different entities is not available until later in the year. Ultimately, this means there could be a delay in the mailing of the property tax bills.

After all the values are entered into the computer system, a final value is given to each entity by the Tax Assessor. The McDuffie County Board of Commissioners, Board of Education, City of Thomson and Town of Dearing each has to decide how many mills (1 mill equals $1,000 in value) they will need for daily maintenance and operation for the coming fiscal year based upon the digest values of real and personal property, public utilities, mobile homes, motor vehicles, timber and heavy duty equipment.

Once this is decided by each entity, they have to advertise this information and hold public meetings. Following consideration of the public's input, each entity approves the millage rate. Then, the actual compiling of the final digest begins.

The Tax Commissioner is responsible for submitting the Property Tax Digest to the Georgia Department of Revenue for approval. The Department of Revenue must inspect all stages of the digest process. When the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue signs the approval letter of the digest, then and only then can the Tax Commissioner's Office begin our part of the process. After approval is granted the printing of the digest, bills and receipts can begin. The tax bills are mailed to the most recent address provided by the land owner as of Jan. 1 of the tax year. If there is an address change during the year, notify the Tax Assessors. The land owner has 60 days to pay the property tax bill. If the tax bill is not paid within 60 days a 1 percent monthly interest rate is applied to each bill, with a minimum charge of $1. More charges are added to each unpaid tax bill as time goes by. Notices are mailed to delinquent tax payers as a reminder the taxes are unpaid. From a form filed in the Clerk of Superior Court, the new owners are notified that the property they purchased during the year has outstanding taxes.

If after 30 days no one has paid the delinquent tax, a notice is mailed to the owner on record that a tax lien (fifa) will be filed against the property in the Clerk of Superior Court's records. Still, if the tax is not paid the tax lien is filed in the Clerk of Superior Court's records. This fifa will be reflected on a credit report for the land owner of record. The Tax Commissioner and staff continue to send reminders of unpaid property tax; however the selling of property for unpaid tax process has now begun.

After the collection of taxes, the monies are distributed to each entity, the State of Georgia, the County Board of Commissioners, the County Board of Education, City of Thomson and Town of Dearing, based upon their mill rate in a timely manner.

Since 2001, my staff and I have worked very hard to decrease the delinquent tax rate from 28 percent to 7 percent and continue to lower this figure. As Tax Commissioner, I am willing to work out a reasonable payment plan to get your taxes paid. The staff and I are available to answer any tax questions that may arise.

As you can see the process is long and thorough to insure the citizens are treated fairly and equally. We want to reassure the residents of McDuffie County that as soon as the State of Georgia's Commissioner of the Department of Revenue approves our tax digest, we lose no time in starting the printing of the digest bills and receipts. Unfortunately, unavoidable delays within the tax digest process can cause a ripple effect that impacts the due date on your tax bill. Now that I have explained the process, I hope that the citizens of McDuffie County are more informed on what goes into the tax digest preparation and how it impacts our scheduled due date.

Web posted on Thursday, June 17, 2004

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