People, being what we are, tend to make sometimes hyperbolic complaints about the taxes we pay. But when people’s tax assessments double, triple, quadruple or in some cases multiply by a factor of ten, their concern (to understate the current situation) can hardly be considered exaggerated or unreasonable.
That is the state of mind in which many Columbus property owners now find themselves, as reported by staff writer Alva James-Johnson. And Columbus Council, which three years ago approved the software conversion that has produced these swollen numbers, now appears legally powerless to adjust the assessments that have resulted from it.
For those reasons, council on Tuesday unanimously approved Councilor Glenn Davis’ motion to seek advice and/or help from the state, given that the Georgia Department of Revenue now seems to be where authority in this matter rests.
“There are state laws that set up appeals to go to the Board of Tax of Assessors, which is an arm of the state,” City Attorney Clifton Fay told councilors. “One of the statutes that does give this council some authority only comes into play if the State Revenue commissioner disapproves the local county digest.”
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If that should happen, Fay said, the Columbus Consolidated Government could petition the county Superior Court for tax collecting authority.
But there’s a wrinkle even in that scenario: Muscogee County Tax Commissioner Lula Huff said last week that for the first time in 20 years she would have to seek an extension from the state on the Sept. 1 deadline for submitting the tax digest. So state approval or disapproval, and what might follow from it, could be correspondingly postponed.
Georgia’s anomaly of “local legislation” doesn’t help Columbus — at least not this year — because it’s too late. (Fulton County invoked a 133-year-old version of the above to freeze assessments at the previous year’s levels; other counties don’t have that authority, which is the fundamental civic oxymoron of “local legislation.”)
In the “water under the bridge” category is councilors’ legitimate claim that they should have been informed of these huge tax hikes before notices were sent out. Way beyond said bridge — long gone down the river and out into the Gulf — is the possibility raised by Appraiser John Williams, who has been on the job just two years, that some of the biggest jumps might be on properties on which adjustments had not been made in past years.
Whatever the reason or reasons, the appeals are flooding in as might be expected, which right now seems to be taxpayers’ only recourse.|
Council’s resolution seeks advice from the state revenue commissioner, the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit and the state attorney general. Councilor Judy Thomas added that council will need further discussion if indeed “the Legislature is the place that can change this,” and asked City Manager Isaiah Hugley to put the issue on the city’s 2018 legislative agenda.
Until then, any ideas, assistance or donations would no doubt be welcome.