The 2010 session of the Georgia General Assembly — the longest in recent memory due to an unprecedented budget shortfall — has finally been gaveled to a close. Like every year, this year’s legislative session had its ups and downs. Unlike some years, however, this year there is a bumper crop of substantive accomplishments to show for the efforts of your state legislators.
Over the course of the next two or three months, I will be bringing you up to speed on what was accomplished during this year’s session. I’m going to start with one of my favorite topics: property tax reductions and reforms. Homeowners won some important new rights that will take effect next year and will receive a state property tax cut in future years. DeKalb County homeowners fared even better, getting an extension of the five-year homestead assessment freeze that was enacted four years ago.
First and foremost, recall that the assessed value of your home remains frozen throughout the 2010 tax year as a result of last year’s House Bill 233 (click for information). This two-year property assessment freeze was passed on a party-line vote. It applies to both the board of education (approximately three-quarters of your tax bill) and county government (approximately one-quarter of your tax bill) components of your property taxes. It will remain in effect until the end of 2010 and was intended to keep residential property assessments from increasing at a time that the real estate market has been declining.
The DeKalb County Government’s portion of your property tax bill also is frozen by the local assessment freeze that was enacted four years ago and expires at the end of the 2011 tax year. Senate Bill 544 (click for information), sponsored in the Senate by Senator Dan Weber and in the House by Representative Fran Millar, is legislation that I helped to pass this year. It will extend the county assessment freeze through the end of the 2016 tax year, provided that you vote in favor of it on the ballot this November. There will be a referendum that requires your support.
Whenever I mention an assessment “freeze,” I always receive questions as to whether the assessed value of your home is “frozen” if it declines. The answer is no. The “freezes” discussed above only serve as a ceiling on the assessed value of your home, not a floor.
The General Assembly also passed a taxpayer-friendly comprehensive revision of the laws governing property assessments and appeals, changing a host of absurd procedures that have been very frustrating for homeowners. Sponsored by Senator Chip Rogers, Senate Bill 346 (click for information) requires that every homeowner receive a notice of their property assessment every year and be given the right to appeal their assessment every year, as opposed to only having the right to appeal when your assessment is increased. The notice of your assessment must show an estimated amount of property taxes that you would owe based upon the assessed value of your property.
Under SB 346, the new annual appeal period will be expanded from 30 to 45 days. If the tax assessors don’t respond within 45 days of your filing an appeal, you automatically win.
In addition, distress sales and foreclosures will be taken into account when determining fair market value. The sale price of a recently sold home will be required to be the fair market value for the next tax year. Furthermore, the tax assessors will be required to give you all of the information that has been used in determining the fair market value of your home.
Last but not least, the one-quarter mill’s worth of property taxes that is charged by the state government is being phased out. It will be completely repealed as of the 2016 tax year.