Clayton County's tax assessor has questions about how the state Department of Revenue wants to calculate property tax values. The answer could affect dozens of counties across Georgia.
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to appeal the state’s method of using future property values as part of the formula used to calculate property tax assessment levels.
Clayton County Chief Assessor Emitte George asked the BOC to approve the appeal and to grant him permission to discuss the matter with state officials.
“The final ratios were not right,” George stated.
State law defines the “assessment ratio” as the “fractional relationship between the assessed value and the fair market value of the property.” In other words, it’s the percentage of a property’s fair market value that the county uses to assess property tax.
In Clayton County, property is assessed at 40% of fair market value. That means property owners only pay taxes on the first 40% of their home’s fair market value.
“Fair market value” is not the same thing as the asking price for a property, because many other factors go into setting a sales price for each individual home. (That’s why your tax bill might show a value that’s lower than what comparable homes are going for in a seller’s market.)
The process of setting assessed property values is a bit of a back-and-forth process. First, the county gathers data into a computer-assisted mass appraisal, or CAMA for short. George described that as “a work in progress” because more data keeps coming in even after the state gets Clayton County’s CAMA files in late February or early March.
The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts samples the data and sends those samples back to the county in May, George explained. “We go through them and see which were disqualified or had the wrong ratio.”
George said the county sent back 350 samples, along with the reasons why his office felt they were not representative of the county’s data as a whole.
According to George, the state used a “time adjustment” that the Georgia Assembly passed into law in 2010 as part of SB 346. That bill, which passed the Senate unanimously and the House with one dissenting vote, was pitched by then-Senate Majority Leader Chip Roberts (its author) as being friendly to property owners. Among its numerous changes to existing state law at the time was something called the “match sale clause.”
George said the county can’t be held responsible for guesstimating sales that haven’t happened yet as part of setting assessed property values.
George told the BOC that he and other chief appraisers from about “95 or 96 counties” met last week to discuss the issue, adding, “Sixty percent [of counties] fell below 30% [assessed value] and nobody’s ever seen that before.”
What that means for the county in dollars and cents would be a loss of $21,037,757 in assessed value. And that in turn could affect how the county figures its budget for public utilities and Quality Basic Education funding for Clayton County Schools.
According to George, the county has until September 5 to file the appeal, which he described as a “formality” that allows for further discussions with state officials, as well as “a greater discussion going forward” about what each county is sending the state.
The Department of Revenue’s figures use the “coefficient of dispersion,” a formula that measures how consistent property appraisals are when compared to the mean or median sales price in a given area. (The mean is the average sales price, while the median is the middle price when all prices are ranked from highest to lowest.)
George said that the Department of Revenue’s calculations varied widely.
“Some counties came out 31, 32 [percent]. Their CODs were way off the charts,” he said. “One county way up in North Georgia failed” on every measure from the state, but were “perfect” at the county level.
“We’re not going to forecast or try to crystal-ball,” he said.
District 3 Commissioner Gail Hambrick said, “I’m concerned that we are successful with the appeal and that the [county’s] numbers don’t change.”
George replied that, “first and foremost,” he want to keep the number “above 28%.”
“I definitely don’t want it to have a negative effect with the school system’s QBE,” Hambrick said.
We’ve asked George for more information about the discrepancy between what the state and the county think the correct assessed value should be for Clayton County properties and will update with his response.