Columbus wants to increase property taxes. Here’s what you need to know.

Attorney explains how to appeal your property tax assessment in Georgia

Columbua, Ga., attorney Travis Hargrove with The Finley Firm explains the steps property owners can take to appeal their property value reassessments.
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Columbua, Ga., attorney Travis Hargrove with The Finley Firm explains the steps property owners can take to appeal their property value reassessments.

Property taxes could be going up in Columbus this year, but there are three public hearings where residents can have their voices heard.

The Columbus Consolidated Government has issued a notice saying next year’s tentative budget requires a higher millage rate and three public hearings are required by Georgia law before it’s raised.

What is a millage rate?

It’s a tax rate that calculates the amount of tax that property owners have to pay, when multiplied against the assessed value of the property.

The rate is set annually by local governments.

The word millage comes from the Latin term “millesimum,” which means “thousandth part.” A mill is 1/1,000 of a dollar.

How much do I owe?

Assessed value in Georgia is set at 40 percent of the fair market value, and that amount is multiplied by the millage rate to determine how much taxes a person owes on their property.

Will rates go up in all of Columbus?

The council is proposing to leave the millage rate at 17.18 mils for urban service districts 1, 5, 6 and 7, according to the notice.

That means a property in one of those districts with an assessed value of $100,000 would receive a tax bill from the city of $1,718.

Columbus is divided into seven urban service districts depending on the level of service the districts receive, according to Deputy City Manager Pam Hodge. All of the districts have the same level of service except for paving and police response time.

Because there was no increase in the total digest for districts 2 and 4, and the millage rates of 11.20 mils for district 2 and 10.30 mils for district 4 will remain the same and there will be no tax increase advertised.

Is it really a tax increase?

Yes. The city is required by state law to publish a notice of property tax increase when the council decides not to adopt a rollback millage rate, which means it stays the same as the previous year.

Because of increases in property value due to inflation and additions of new or improved properties, and because the council has proposed to not adopt the rollback rate, the city will receive more revenue from property taxes than it did the previous year.

Who is exempt?

City Manager Isaiah Hugley said Wednesday that despite the language in the advertisement, people whose property taxes are frozen on their homes and who have not made any additions will not see an increase.

The one percent increase has more to do with the growth in the total digest, or list, of taxable properties in Columbus, he said.

“If we did everything exactly the same during the course of the year, but we added 600 new homes and two new 50,000-square-foot buildings, all else was the same, those 600 new homes and those new buildings would increase the digest because you’ve added to the inventory,” he said. “Adding to the inventory gives the appearance that we had an increase in property taxes.”

Did you get a mailed notice?

The same day the council determined the tentative budget, the Board of Assessors mailed out notices to those in Muscogee County who own property, informing them of the assessed value of that property.

Chief Appraiser Suzanne Widenhouse said that if citizens receive a tax assessment notice for a property they sold after Jan. 1 of this year, they should forward it on to the new owner.

“Notices go to the owners of record as of January 1, and that’s an important distinction,” Widenhouse said Tuesday. “Say someone bought their house Jan. 2 — they’re not getting that notice of assessment. It has gone to whoever the owner of record was on January 1.”

Those who purchased property after Jan. 1, 2019 should get in touch with the Board of Assessors if they do not receive an assessment notice, Widenhouse said.

She also asked that previous owners who may receive the notices to forward them on to the new owners as a courtesy.

How do I appeal?

It’s important the current property owners receive the notices, Widenhouse said, because they have 45 days from May 21 to appeal their assessments at the Tax Assessor’s Office located on the second floor of the Citizens Service Center or online.

Once appeals are received, appraisers will take a second look at the property to determine if the valuation should be changed.

If they decide otherwise, the property owner can appeal to the Board of Equalization. Appealing to the Superior Court and other options are also available at an additional cost.

The notices are not bills; those are scheduled to be sent by the Muscogee County Tax Commissioner later in the year, and have their own appeal process.

Does the budget depend on property taxes?

Property taxes generally make up about 30 percent of the consolidated government’s revenue each year.

Mayor Skip Henderson presented his proposed $282 million budget for 2020 on April 24.

On May 21, Columbus Council decided on a tentative $284 million budget after a series of budget review hearings in which city department heads and elected officials made their cases for additional funding.

When are the public hearings?

Public hearings on the tax increase will be held at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. June 4 as well as 9 a.m. June 11 in the Council Chambers on the second floor of the City Services Center at 3111 Citizens Way.

The hearing at 6 p.m. June 4 will also include a first reading of the budget ordinance for fiscal year 2020, with the second and final hearing to follow at 9 a.m. June 11.

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