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Ad Valorem Tax: The Season of Tax Appeal

Tax season can be a scary time of year for some woodland owners in Georgia. No taxpayer wants to pay more than he or she rightfully owes, but unfortunately many landowners do just that each year.

There are some situations in the filing process that will give a landowner the ability to file a tax appeal and reduce his or her property tax liability. In most cases, however, landowners will not file for an appeal simply because they do not understand the legal process or they feel unprepared to challenge local taxing authorities.

A Common Problem

Unfortunately, overpayment is common as Georgia’s timberland owners pay some of the highest property tax rates in the southeastern United States.

This is due to a variety of factors including development and speculative influences on land prices; differing attitudes, resources, knowledge levels, and skills among local assessment offices; and the absence of a short term special program for keeping transitional land in agricultural use. Also, contrary to the Georgia Constitution, when the amount of taxes levied is compared to the cost of services consumed, timberland owners also bear a highly inequitable share of the overall tax burden.

However, the good news is that there are provisions under current law for tax appraisals of timberland to be based simply on the income that can be generated from growing trees.

Standards for tax assessors require valuations to be performed in accordance with the law, to be uniform and to be at “fair market value” as defined in Georgia code. Beyond that, Georgia is an “existing use” state, meaning that “fair market value” is supposed to be determined in the context of a property’s “existing use” (as opposed to an alternative or more profitable potential use). What is considered income information, if available, shall be applied in tax appraisals of timberland.

Simply put, assessment uniformity is violated when a timberland owner pays more than his or her fair share of the tax burden. In sum, Georgia law, rules and regulations provide specific criteria as to how property should be valued. Tax appraisals are subject to being invalided when those requirements are not followed.

“Georgia law provides a wealth of opportunities for reductions in market values for timberland for the practitioner who knows which rocks to look under and what buttons to push,” Jay Roberts, ad valorem tax expert and partner at Roberts | Tate, LLC, said.

Practical Solutions

On May 30 in Gainesville, GA, and on June 4 in Tifton, GA, the Georgia Forestry Association will sponsor two property tax and tax appeal workshops to assist Georgia’s woodland owners in becoming more knowledgeable about property taxes and more comfortable with the tax appeal process.

The workshops will address the problems with ad valorem property taxation of timberland in Georgia and will explore potential solutions. Real life case studies will demonstrate what can be done in these situations and prepare participants to approach appeals with greater confidence.

“Many landowners are leaving too much money on the table at tax time,” GFA President Steve McWilliams said. “The goal of these workshops is to help them pay only what they rightfully owe, not a penny more.”

Drawing on years of experience in obtaining substantial reductions in timberland property tax valuations, workshop presenters Steve Fentriss and Jay Roberts will teach landowners what to expect when challenging tax appraisals and how deal with the assessors when they feel they have been wronged.

Fentriss and Roberts combine the perspectives of a specialized attorney, owner tax advocates, an experienced real estate appraiser, a tenured hearing officer, a long-term former deputy chief appraiser, and a licensed real estate broker to bear in challenging property tax valuations. In the aggregate, these professionals have worked on tax appeal cases that have resulted in $2 billion in market value reductions.

Fentriss, who has represented a multitude of Georgia property owners since establishing his property tax consulting business in early 2008, noted that in most appeals “knowledge and persistence are essential elements for successful outcomes”.

These workshops will be a great opportunity for any landowner to become more knowledgeable about Georgia’s property tax programs and the tax appeal process. For more information on the workshop location, speakers and agenda, call GFA at 478-992-8110, email info@gfagrow.org or visit gfagrow.org.

Matt Hestad
Georgia Forestry Association


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