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Georgia Property Tax Issues: Assessments and Millage Rates Q & A

I don’t know where I copy/pasted this from but I decided that my friend Trulia Atlanta needed to read some seriously deep, dry and boring Q&A on property taxes…before I do that, does everyone realize the awesomeness of Trulia’s reporting and graphics ?

Decatur average price per square foot

Q:  Property values and assessments have been going down over the last few years.  Why are property taxes still just as high or even higher?

A: Each county still needs a certain amount of tax revenue to operate. They still have to provide schools, police, fire protection, and all other county services.  If the assessments go down, the county has to raise the millage rate.

Q: What is the millage rate?

A: The millage rate is a number that is multiplied by 40% of the final property assessment (after all exemptions) to get the tax bill amount on each property.  The millage rate is the same for everyone in the same county or city.

Q: Then why does it help homeowners to get their assessments reduced? 

A: Each property pays its share based on its assessed value, so the homeowners who get a reduction in their assessment will pay a smaller share of the whole county’s tax bill.

Q: Can the county raise its millage rate as much as it wants?

A: There are two ways for a county to raise the millage rate:

1.  Hold at least 3 advertised public hearings before the increase; or

2.  Keep the increase below the “rollback rate”, which is the millage rate that would cause an increase in the actual bill when multiplied by the new lower assessment.  In other words, the millage rate can be adjusted to keep the bill almost as high as the previous year, even if the assessment has been reduced.  An increase in the millage rate alone is not considered a tax increase.

Q: How can homeowners reduce their assessment?

A:  There are several ways to reduce the assessment:

1. There is a formal appeal process that is available to every homeowner – this may require an independent appraisal and a personal appearance at one or more hearings.

2. File for homestead exemption, which is available in most counties and also in some cities.  The owners must prove that they live in this property as their personal and principal residence.  The proof may include a voter registration card, driver’s license address that matches the property, utility bills, or other items required by the county or city.  Owners can only get one homestead in Georgia, and a husband and wife can only get one.

3. See if the owners qualify for any additional exemptions due to age, income, or disability.  These exemptions vary by county, and only a few of the metro Atlanta counties give an exemption based purely on age; most require the elderly to also provide proof of income.  This income limitation is usually based on income over and above social security, and the limits become more generous as the owners get older, for instance, $60,000 for owners age 60-70, and $80,000 for owners over age 70.  Each county and city can set its own rules and exemptions.  Most also give exemptions for disabled veterans and their widows or widowers.

4. There is also a state law that automatically reassesses a property that is bought or sold, based on the sales price.  The new assessment will take effect the following calendar year.

Q: Does every property have a county bill or a city bill?

A: In Georgia, every property is subject to a county tax bill.  If the property is also in an incorporated city such as Atlanta, Decatur, Marietta, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, etc., there may also be a city tax bill.  The millage rates are set separately by the county and city, based on the revenue that they need.

Q: Any other property tax advice for homeowners?

A:  Pay attention to all tax assessment notices that come to you, to see if you need to challenge the amounts or claim exemptions that you may qualify for.  Watch the deadlines for filing appeals and exemptions.  If you refinance your property, make sure that the title did not change and cause you to lose your exemptions;  you may need to file for those again.  If you move, make sure that the county has your correct mailing address, so that you get all notices about your taxes.

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