2008-09-11 / Front Page

Digest shows 6.2-percent growth; tax bills should go out in October

As it now stands, Lincoln County residents should receive their tax bills sometime in October.

The Lincoln County Tax Commissioner is preparing to send the tax digest to Atlanta for approval by the Georgia Department of Revenue. If everything is in order, the digest will receive conditional approval, and the tax bills will be printed and mailed in Macon.

For the third consecutive year, the fair market value of all real property in the county, counting taxable and exempt property, is over $1 billion. This also includes $400,000,000 of property owned by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

However, the county can only levy tax on 40 percent of the fair market value, which, less exemptions, translated into a net digest of $315,321,000 for 2008 as compared to $296,786,434 for last year.

Homestead and other personal property exemptions amounted to $6,542,000 ($7,157,332 in 2007); whereas, conservation exemptions took $32,826,000 ($31,512,859 for last year) off of the tax books for a total of $39,368,000.

As a rural area, the conservation exemption hits Lincoln County the hardest. This exemption allows landowners to enroll in a 10-year conservation plan, which means their land is assessed using the state value for agricultural property instead of the value set by the county.

Approximately 50 percent of the taxable property in Lincoln County is in the conservation use program.

Still, "The net taxable digest for 2008 grew 6.2 percent, which includes all real and personal property, timber, and motor vehicles," said Kenny Adair, chief tax assessor for Lincoln County. "The growth was mainly a result of new subdivisions, mostly without houses, that had not been on the digest before as well as new construction."

Last year, the net taxable digest grew a phenomenal 12.8 percent, primarily because of the development of new subdivisions in the county.

"Very few houses are being built in the subdivisions so far, and it may be a few years before the build-out starts in earnest," said Adair. "But when it does, the new developments will do more to help offset the taxes on existing properties - - more value will be added to the net digest to spread the tax burden around."

In her comments, Meg Burg, director of the Lincoln County Planning and Zoning Department, said, "We are collecting tax dollars from the sale of parcels of land with or without houses on them. Most people bought property in these new subdivisions with the intent of using it for a second home or a retirement home.

"Sure, we want more houses built, but going into this, the developers and everyone else knew it would be five or 10 years before we started to see any significant construction," the director explained. "It takes time to build infrastructure. The growth will be slow, but that's what we want."

Burg went on to say that the Indian Cove subdivision, which was established 30 years ago, has only reached 60 percent build-out. Build-out figures for other subdivisions are as follows: Forest Lake Estates, 35 percent; Plantation Point, 45 percent; and Holiday Estates, 50 percent.

Currently, there are nine new subdivisions that are ready to accommodate new homes: Pointe Shores, Longleaf Pointe, Providence Ferry, Dogwood Ridge, Larkspur Landing, Savannah Bay, Florence Creek Estates, Oak Hill, and Saddlebrook Farms, Phase II. To date, a total of 17 homes have either been built or are under construction.

In other items of information, the chief tax assessor pointed out that for a number of years, his office has been engaged in the painful process of bringing the county into compliance with state laws governing the assessment of property.

State law requires that property be appraised at 100 percent of its fair market value, although the state will accept figures in the 90 to 110-percent range.

"In the 2001 Tax Digest, we were at 55 percent of fair market value," said Adair. "After paying fines for a few years, we had a major revaluation in 2002. If we hadn't done this, the state would have assessed a very hefty fine and cut off funding until the county brought the digest into compliance.

"We are now assessing property at 97.6 percent of the fair market value, which is within state guidelines" he said.

This year, two subdivisions in the county had to be revaluated: Montego Point and Hidden Harbour.

"During the past two or three years, these homeowners have received slight increases in the value of their property, compared to the rest of the county," said Adair. "After investigating the matter, we found that sales did not justify these minimal increases. In 2007, sales showed that the properties were worth a little bit more money in these two subdivisions, so they were assessed a little higher."

In further remarks, the chief assessor indicated that when he started work in Lincoln County in 2000, the county was receiving 10-page letters from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts, full of faults and findings in regard to the tax digest. However, for the past six years, the county has received single-page audit reports informing it that everything was in order.

This year, Adair's office has received 52 appeals to date.

Nevertheless, the biggest issue facing his office is the 40 lawsuits or notices of appeal filed against the board of tax assessors last year in superior court by Plum Creek Timberlands, LP.

"It's unreal the burden these appeals have placed upon the entire office," said the tax assessor. "The situation is like David and Goliath. Plum Creek is the largest landowner in the United States and here is little Lincoln County battling this corporate giant. Still, we're continuing to prepare our defense."

For more information about property appraisals and the tax digest, contact the Lincoln County Tax Assessor's Office at 706-359-5502.

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