The Hall County Tax Assessors Office is processing a lot of property tax appeals this year — and officials expect appeals will continue to increase in coming years.
Assistant Chief Appraiser Don Elrod said the Tax Assessors Office received about 2,600 appeals this year. Last year, the office received about 1,100.
"It was highly publicized this year," Elrod said.
In the future, even more property owners are likely to appeal their values due to Senate Bill 346, which was signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue just last month. It will require local governments to send all property owners assessments, even if the value of their property has not changed. It will also extend the amount of time property owners have to appeal their assessments.
From Jan. 1 to March 1 this year, property owners were able to request an assessment of their property. After receiving the assessment, they had 30 days to appeal their property values. If the Tax Assessors Office finds that the value of the property has changed, it will send the property owner what is known as a 21-day notice, which alerts them of the new value.
"In the system it’ll recalculate the value and it’ll be flagged as a 21-day notice," Elrod said. "They’ll have 21 days to either accept that value or they can appeal it again."
People who choose to appeal will have their case heard by the board of equalization — a panel of Hall County residents appointed by the grand jury. Board members must have a high school education and own property in Hall County.
The office will mail out three batches of 21-day notices over the next few weeks.
If a high number of the appeals are successful in lowering property values, Hall County would be looking at lower property tax revenue than expected.
Hall County Finance Director Michaela Thompson said she is hoping the appeals will not have a major impact on the county’s already lean budget.
"We’ve tried to be very conservative with our estimates," Thompson said. "Hopefully we don’t have to make any drastic adjustments."
Thompson said all revenue streams are uncertain at this point in time.
"You can’t always predict revenues, but we’ve been monitoring it so closely," Thompson said. "I’m going to be optimistic. ... We’re not going to know the result until the process is over."
Elrod said he also worries about what the new law will mean for the county’s budget next year.
As it stands, unless the value of a property has changed, property owners must request an assessment.
Sending out assessments for every property in the county could represent some significant costs, Elrod said.
"For us to print a notice for every piece of property in Hall County is going to cost upwards of $50,000," Elrod said. "Right now we spend between ($12,000) and $15,000."
Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, sponsored a bill in the Georgia House of Representatives that is similar to the one that was passed in the Senate.
"I think it’s going to be much better for the property owner and much easier to make sure you’re not being over-taxed," Mills said.
The bill also will widen the time period that people have to appeal their property assessments.
"I think it’ll be excellent because it’ll give the property owner more time to see if their value has been over-assessed or under-assessed," Mills said. "It does inform people more about their property values."
Mills believes property assessments should fluctuate to reflect the real estate market so people pay taxes on what their house would realistically sell for each year.
"Property values have gone down, that’s the truth of the market," Mills said.