For several years prior to the summer of 2014, the Board of Tax Assessors frequently discussed the need for conducting a county-wide revaluation of all real estate parcels. The concern of the Board was that, due to the length of time which had passed since the last county-wide revaluation, many parcels may currently not be appraised at their fair market value, being over-valued or under-valued because of substantial changes in the market, parcel splits, or improvements to the property which have escaped assessment by the Board. It has been and continues to be the hope of the Board that a county-wide revaluation will help uncover these issues and help to achieve a fair and accurate assessment of all Muscogee County parcels, thereby achieving uniformity of assessment throughout Muscogee County.
There was also a concern by the Board that the aging software used by the appraisers within the Tax Assessor’s Office was impeding their ability to effectively perform their duties.
This concern was similarly voiced in October 2013 by a consultant engaged by the city to review the operations of the Tax Assessor’s Office who stated that its “technology is outdated and appears to be ineffective,” echoing the recommendation of the city’s internal auditor in 2008 for a software upgrade.
These concerns led to the Board’s decision to request the city’s commitment to an upgrade of the software which is jointly used by the Tax Assessor’s Office, the Tax Commissioner’s Office, the 911 Emergency Office, the Inspections and Code Department, and the GIS Mapping Division of the Engineering Office. Through collaboration with each of these departments, the city made the decision to engage Tyler Technologies to install the iasWorld software and, as part of this software upgrade, conduct a county-wide revaluation of all real estate parcels. The software installation and revaluation process began in late 2014.
Although the Board recognizes that the revaluation process has resulted in several abnormalities which we are actively seeking to resolve, we are unaware of any software glitches or system-wide problems. Yes, the revaluation has resulted in more appeals being filed with the Tax Assessor’s Office, but appeals are a normal and expected result of such a broad revaluation process.
It is important we keep in mind that, although approximately two-thirds of our real estate parcels increased in value, approximately one-third decreased. Irrespective of an increase in a property’s value due to the revaluation, if a property is under the homestead freeze, the homestead value is frozen for property tax purposes, meaning that a homestead property owner has not been adversely affected as a result of the revaluation.
Property owners should also bear in mind that the homestead exemption applies only to their home and two acres, and any additional acreage is assessed independently. Homestead property and non-homestead property have always been assessed separately, and any increase in non-homestead property has absolutely no effect on a property owner’s frozen homestead property value.
The Board remains firm in its position that the revaluation was properly conducted and yielded predominantly correct results. One must keep in mind that if, for example, 8 percent of our parcels are appealed, that means 92 percent did not appeal and that those property owners have accepted the revaluation of their property. However, for the 8 percent who are appealing, the Board’s direction to the Tax Assessor’s Office is that they diligently and expeditiously review the appeals, which the Tax Assessor’s Office is doing. In fact, of the 4,905 appeals submitted through Wednesday, 1,485 or 30 percent have been reviewed by the Tax Assessor’s Office resulting in 787, or 53 percent, of the appeals reviewed having their values reduced. Simply stated, the Board has been reducing the value of approximately one-half of properties under appeal.
The Board strongly believes that the appeals process works and is a legal right of which property owners should avail themselves if they are dissatisfied with the revaluation of their property. The goal of the Board remains the same – that is, our tax digest should be correct based on the best information available, which will result in all property in Muscogee County being uniformly assessed as statutorily required.
On a final note, it is important for Muscogee County property owners to understand that we are an independent board established to ensure fairness in the property assessment and valuation system and to keep politics from being involved in our establishing a fair and accurate property tax digest. The Board does not determine the property tax millage rate, nor is the Board responsible for the collection of property taxes. The Board is comprised of Muscogee County citizens who have extensive experience in the real estate industry typically as a certified appraiser or a realtor or, in some cases, both. Each board member also receives extensive training from the Georgia Department of Revenue.
The Board meetings are open and the public is welcome to attend.
Chester Randolph is chairman of the Columbus, Georgia, Board of Tax Assessors.