The number of tax appeals filed by Muscogee County property owners has hit an all-time high with 10,642 processed so far.
Of that amount, 5,145 have been reviewed by Muscogee County Tax Assessors, and 3,209 have been recommended for reductions. Another 1,469 were recommended for no change, 33 for administrative review, and 434 for additional review by a division manager.
The number of cases recommended for reductions represents 62 percent of those reviewed.
Deputy Chief Appraiser John Williams presented the information Tuesday at a Columbus Council meeting, where councilors continued to grapple with the aftershocks of a countywide revaluation/software conversion project. However, there was a lot less tension in the room than at previous meetings.
Williams said owners dissatisfied with their reductions still have the option of appealing through the Muscogee County Board of Equalization or Superior Court.
The more than 10,000 appeals is 15.3 percent of taxable properties, and 3.43 percent of the assessed value in dispute.
Georgia law prohibits the State Revenue Commissioner from approving a digest when 8 percent or more of the assessed value in dispute is on appeal and 8 percent or more of the number of properties is on appeal.
The revaluation, which increased property taxes by as much as 1,000 percent, is expected to significantly increase the Muscogee County tax digest beyond projections. The digest is split 60-40 between the Muscogee County School District and the city, respectively.
Following Williams’ update, council voted to amended an ordinance concerning the levy, assessment, and collection of taxes for MCSD, rolling back the millage rate from 23.37 to 23.321. The vote was in response to the school board’s vote Tuesday to give taxpayers a break for the first time in 21 years as a result of the increased property assessments.
The change could reduce the district’s local revenue by $250,204. But the decreased millage rate still is projected to increase MCSD’s local revenue by approximately $4.9 million because of property revaluations.
Later in the Columbus Council meeting, Finance Director Angelica Alexander made a presentation to council recommending a short-term loan, called a Tax Anticipation Note, to alleviate cash flow issues due to the anticipated delay in receiving property tax revenues this year.
Normally, property owners make tax payments in October and December. But this year, October payments were eliminated because the revaluation project delayed the mailing of tax notices, pushing back the dates when the city and school district are expected to receive revenue.
In August, MCSD members authorized school administrators to also seek a temporary loan.
Alexander said property taxes make up 26 percent of the city’s general revenue, and 31 percent of its operating fund. She said it’s possible that the city won’t need the loan if some property owners pay taxes early like they usually do. But the loan is needed as a safeguard in case the revenue is delayed.
The city would immediately begin requesting bids from local, regional and national institutions for the loan, Alexander told council, and she would bring a formal resolution back to council at a Sept. 26 meeting.
She said early estimates put the amount that the city might have to borrow at about $10,000 to $12,000, and the loan would have to be paid back by December 31.
Unprecedented tax increases have been a sore point between council and the Tax Assessor’s Office in recent months, with council voting to roll back taxes to 2016 levels, a recommendation that tax assessor’s rejected.
At an Aug. 29 meeting, tempers flared as councilors interrogated representatives from Tyler Technologies, the company that implemented the revaluation/software conversion project. In previous meetings, some councilors have said they didn’t learn of the significant tax increases until they received their tax bills. They also criticized tax assessors for not showing up to a council meeting at their request.
At an Aug. 23 meeting, Chester Randolph, chair of the Board of Tax Assessors, told council tax assessors didn’t show up because they didn’t want to get “beat up” by councilors.
On Tuesday, the interaction between councilors and Williams was cordial.
“I’ve had a lot of people complain about the process, but then I recently had somebody who recently had their taxes go up, and they were reduced quite significantly,” said Council Walker Garrett, addressing Williams. “... They did compliment your office, and I just wanted to make that known to the public. ... So I just want to say, ‘thank you, Mr. Williams.’”