Commissioners meeting covers property valuation, tax digest

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Henry County residents who attended the Board of Commissioners meeting May 1, or watched it online or on television, got an education on how their homes are valued and their property taxes are computed.

With the county’s FY2019 budget being considered for a May 15 vote, county officials put John Selfe, chief appraiser for the Henry County Board of Assessors, on the meeting agenda so he could talk about what his office does and how it does it.

That office valued more than 94,000 properties in the past year that make up the county’s total tax digest of roughly $20 billion. That work included 14,255 deeds processed and 4,271 MLS sales reviewed. The staff processed all development permits and building permits, which included 1,564 new structures and eight new subdivisions.

Selfe said the duties of the Tax Assessors Office can be summed up best in its mission statement:

“The Tax Assessors Office determines the fair market value of all taxable real and personal property in the county. Our goal is to annually produce a digest that is both uniform and reflects fair market value as defined by [Georgia law]. In addition, the digest must conform to all requirements of Georgia law and the rules and regulations as set forth by the Georgia Department of Revenue.”

All taxation determinations are based on properties in the same class. For instance, a convenience store’s value is based on other convenience stores, not compared to residences. The definition of “fair market value” is what someone will pay for a piece of property and what a seller will accept for it.

Selfe pointed out that it is important for these valuations to be done accurately every year because it is not uncommon for the tax digest to see 20-percent growth over a period of three to four years and that increase should be absorbed a little bit each year and not all at once.

The period from July 5 of last year to April 5 of this year has shown overall growth of 8.73 percent in residential values, 5.34 percent in commercial and 15.18 percent in industrial. The gross county digest is up 7.55 percent for 2018 and the net digest (without exemptions) is up 7.38 percent. Selfe emphasized that this year’s digest is not completely finished.

To show how things have changed throughout the economic downturn of recent years, Selfe said that in 2008 there were 585 homes in the county under $70,000 in value. By 2012 that number skyrocketed to 16,824 and by 2018 was back down to 1,476. At those same points on the calendar, home values above $500,000 went from 741 to 135 to 451.

Sefle addressed what he said are four common misconceptions about the work of the Tax Assessors Office:

“The Tax Assessors Office raised value when the county needs money.” Selfe reiterated that the numbers are based on real value and shared an actual residential example of a home that was valued at $514,000 in 2008 but fell to $251,000 in 2012 and has risen to $365,000 now.

“The Tax Assessors Office shows my property value being significantly less or more than what my property is worth.” The date of valuation is Jan. 1 and values are updated to the website every April, so what is displayed there can be a year old or slightly more.

“The big box warehouses are not paying any taxes.” There are 80 big box warehouses in the county, Selfe stated, and many pay between $500,000 and $1 million in taxes each year. One building can potentially represent 365 homes in terms of tax revenue. “This is a stable property type that helps diversify our tax base,” said Selfe.

“I pay more taxes than my neighbor and we have the exact same house.” Houses that look the same can have different tax bills because of the variety of residential and land exemptions that are possible. Selfe showed as an example two identical houses, one with $20,000 in homestead exemptions and the other with zero. On a valuation of about $40,000 that means a $270 difference in property tax.

Another confusing area for many local citizens is multi-family housing. While an apartment tenant does not directly pay property tax, according to Selfe, the owner of an apartment complex is paying for every single unit, sometimes at a value of $100,000 or so each.