On July 28th I commented on the millage rate increase passed by the Augusta Commission. After what was apparently a strong showing of displeasure by the taxpayers, the Commission voted no to the tax increase.
What changed? Mary Davis and Donnie Smith, who voted in favor of the increase less than a month ago, did not support the increase yesterday. I have found no public comment regarding the change of heart.
Some people have commented that instead of raising the millage rates to increase tax revenue, the county assessor should reassess and increase the value of properties. Last year when I appealed my tax assessment (successfully) I got a first hand look at how the assessor’s system works.
Pursuant to the relevant statute, the property is supposed to be assessed at its fair market value on January 1. In preparing my appeal, I looked at all the sales in my neighborhood over the last several years and the values at which the houses were assessed.
By looking at the MLS and other online listings and comparing those listings to the property records kept by the assessor’s office it was apparent that the assessor’s office does not have accurate information on MANY houses in the neighborhood. Numerous houses have second levels or other amenities which are unaccounted for by they assessor’s office.
By adding the unaccounted for square footage, the city would stand to gain a significant amount of money without raising the millage rate. This could be effectuated by simply comparing the tax assessor’s records to the for sale listings online.
That brings me to my second point: The assessment for many houses (not the ones with unaccounted for square feet) is already well above the house’s fair market value. Fair market value is defined as “the amount a knowledgeable buyer would pay for the property and a willing seller would accept for the property at an arm’s length, bona fide sale.” O.C.G.A. Section 48-5-2(3).
After studying the sales in the neighborhood and comparing them to the assessed values of the properties, it is apparent that the tax assessor already assesses most properties above their fair market value. To advocate for a blanket increase of assessed values is simply wrong.
In short, the people who believe another way of going about the tax increase would be to increase the assessments of properties have it right with respect to increasing the accuracy of the property records. However, many, if not most, properties are already assessed above their fair market values.