Georgia Rep. Richard Smith said he spoke to the state’s Revenue Commissioner recently and learned that the Muscogee County Board of Tax Assessors has the authority to roll back property tax assessments to 2016 levels.
“What she told me was that the Board of Tax Assessors can do that if they want to, but if somebody challenges it in court, they have to be able to justify why they did it,” Smith said Friday in an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer. “Then it becomes a court case.”
When asked if he thinks it was something the board should pursue, Smith said: “That’s up to them; I have no control over what they do. I have not talked to any of the members on the board.”
Smith said he spoke to State Revenue Commissioner Lynne Riley after receiving a few calls from Realtors, Columbus councilors and other residents.
The issue of rolling back assessments surfaced at a July 25 Columbus Council meeting. Councilor Walker Garrett said he wanted to explore the possibility as a way to help taxpayers whose property tax assessments jumped significantly because of a countywide reassessment of 70,000 parcels. But City Attorney Clifton Fay told councilors they had no authority regarding the matter.
“There are state laws that set up appeals to go to the Board of Tax of Assessors, which is an arm of the state,” Fay said. “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.”
In the end, council passed a motion to seek guidance from state officials about what council can do to address tax assessments that have jumped by as much as 1,000 percent. The motion calls for letters to be sent to the attorney general, state revenue commissioner and the chief judge of the Chattahoochee Valley Circuit requesting advice.
On Friday, Smith said it’s his understanding that council can make a recommendation to the Board of Tax Assessors requesting the rollback, but it wouldn’t be binding.
“It’s just a recommendation from council, but then the board has to make the decision,” he said. Fay couldn’t be reached for comment.
Randy Lomax, an attorney representing the Board of Tax Assessors, said rolling back the tax assessments would be counterproductive and the board is not currently considering taking such action.
“If the county has gone through the trouble and expense of reassessment, why would we want to revert back to 2016 values?” he said. “Seems like we would be taking a step backward rather than coming to a resolution.”
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the city confirmed Wednesday that taxpayers appealing their assessments will have the option of paying at either their 2016 assessment level, or 85 percent of their 2017 assessed value, if their cases aren’t resolved by Dec. 1. Lomax said that would have the same effect as rolling back assessments for some people.
Smith said he doesn’t necessarily have an opinion on the issue, and he just spoke to the tax commissioner for clarification.
“I know there are a lot of people concerned, and a lot of people are upset about what they see and hear,” Smith said of the controversy. “We’ll have to see how it works out. I’m sure the courts will be involved in some fashion or another.”