Ad valorem tax, more commonly known as property tax, is a large source of revenue for local governments in Georgia. The basis for ad valorem taxation is the fair market value of the property, which is established as of January 1 of each year. The tax is levied on the assessed value of the property which, by law, is established at 40% of the fair market value unless otherwise specified by law (O.C.G.A. 48-5-7). Fair market value, means "the amount a knowledgeable buyer would pay for the property and a willing seller would accept for the property at an arm's length, bona fide sale. "(O.C.G.A. 48-5-311) The amount of tax is determined by the tax rate (mill rate) levied by various entities (one mill is equal to $1.00 for each $1,000 of assessed value, or .001).
Several distinct entities are involved in the ad valorem tax process:
Generally, Ben Hill County property taxes are due by December 20th. If taxes are not paid on the property, it may be
levied upon and ultimately sold. When mailing in tax payments a United States Postal Service postmark will be accepted (not metered post marks).
Taxpayers are required to file at least an initial tax return for taxable property (both real and personal property) owned
on January 1 of that tax year. The tax return is a listing of the property owned by the taxpayer and the taxpayer's declaration of the value of their property.
Property tax returns must be filed with the Board of Tax Assessors between January 1 and April 1 of each year. (Please note: the filing deadline for homestead exemption is also April 1). After the taxpayer has filed the initial tax return for real property, the law provides for an automatic renewal of that return each succeeding year at the value determined for the preceding year and the taxpayer is required to file a new return only as additional property is acquired, improvements are made to existing property, or other changes occur. Personal property tax returns are required to be filed each year.
A new return, filed during the return period, may also be made by the taxpayer to declare a different value from the existing value where the taxpayer is dissatisfied with the current value placed on the property by the Board of Tax Assessors. This initiates the taxpayer's appeal process if the declared value is not accepted by the Board of Tax Assessors.
Owners of mobile homes that are located in Ben Hill County on January 1 must pay the ad valorem taxes on the home by April 1 of each
year and obtain their location permit at that time. Failure to pay the taxes and obtain the permit will result in a 10% tax penalty,
issuance of a citation for appearance in Ben Hill County Magistrate Court or possible sale of the mobile/manufactured home.
Mobile home owners desiring to declare a different value from the existing value on the home have 45 days to file an appeal with the Board of Tax Assessors. If a taxpayer is dissatisfied with the value change or corrections, the taxpayer has the right to appeal to the Board of Equalization within 21 days of the date of the notice.
The HTRG (Homeowner's Tax Relief Grant) Credit is the result of the homeowner's tax relief enacted by the Governor and the
General Assembly of the State of Georgia in 1999. The grant, appropriated by the General Assembly and the Governor for the
last several years to counties, cities and schools, had given tax relief to homeowners in the form of a credit on their tax bills.
For the 2009 tax year, the Governor and General Assembly did not fund the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant. Declining state revenues during
the current recession means there is no money for the State to give the tax relief to homeowners. Therefore, there will not be a
credit for this grant on 2009 tax bills on properties with homestead exemption. According to legislation passed in 2009 (House Bill 143),
the grant will only be made available in the future if state revenues grow at least 3% plus the rate of inflation.
Homestead exemptions have been enacted to reduce the burden of ad valorem taxation for Georgia homeowners. The exemptions apply to homestead
property owned by the taxpayer and occupied as his or her legal residence. Homestead exemptions are deducted from the assessed value of the
qualifying property (40% of the fair market value).
To receive the benefit of the homestead exemption, the taxpayer must file an initial application. The application is filed with the Ben Hill County Tax Assessor's Office. First time homeowners need to bring a copy of their warranty deed to insure their application is filed correctly. With respect to all of the homestead exemptions, the Board of Assessors makes the final determination as to eligibility; however, if the application is denied the taxpayer must be notified and an appeal procedure is then available to the taxpayer.
Georgia law allows for the year-round filing of homestead applications but the application must be received by April 1 of the year for which the exemption is first claimed by the taxpayer. Homestead applications received after that date will be applied to the next tax year.
Once granted, the homestead exemption is automatically renewed each year and the taxpayer does not have to apply again unless there is a change of residence, ownership, or the taxpayer seeks to qualify for a different kind of exemption.
Under authority of the State Constitution several different types of homestead exemptions are provided. These are called State Exemptions.
In addition, local governments are authorized to provide for increased exemption amounts. These are called Local County Exemptions.
Ben Hill County has such local county exemptions. The Local County Exemptions supersede the State Exemptions when the Local Exemption
amount is greater than the State Exemption amount. The Tax Commissioner's office and Tax Assessor's Office can answer questions regarding the standard exemptions as
well as any local exemptions that are in place.
The Local County Exemptions supersede the state exemption amount when the local exemption is greater than the state exemption.
The Local Homestead Exemption is available to all homeowners 65 and older with a net income of less than $10,000.00. There is a $12,500.00 exemption
for the County portion of the tax bill; $12,5000.00 is subtracted from your assessed value before your bill is calculated. Homeowners must apply between
January 1st and April 1st.
The Standard Homestead Exemption is available to all homeowners who otherwise qualify by ownership and residency requirements and it is an amount equal to $2,000 which is deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property. The exemption applies to the maintenance and operation portion of the mill rate levy of the county and the county school system and the State mill rate levy. It does not apply to the portion of the mill rate levied to retire bonded indebtedness.
The Standard Elderly School Tax Homestead Exemption is an increased homestead exemption for homeowners 62 and older where the net income does not exceed $10,000 for the preceding year. This exemption applies only to school tax but it does include taxes levied to retire bonded indebtedness. The amount of the exemption is up to $10,000 deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property.
The Standard Elderly General Homestead Exemption is available to homeowners who otherwise qualify and who are 65 and older where the net income of the applicant and spouse does not exceed $10,000 for the preceding year. Social Security income and certain retirement income are excluded from the calculation of the income threshold. This exemption, which is in an amount up to $4,000 deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property, applies to county taxes, school taxes, and the state tax and it does apply to taxes levied to retire bonded indebtedness.
The Disabled Veterans Homestead Exemption is available to certain disabled veterans in an amount up to $50,000 deducted from the 40% assessed value of the homestead property. This exemption applies to all ad valorem tax levies; however, it is restricted to certain types of very serious disabilities (that are service- connected disabilities) and proof of disability, either from the Veterans Administration or from a private physician in certain circumstances.
A similar exemption in the same amount is now available to the un-remarried surviving spouse of a member of the armed forces of the United States who was killed in any war or armed conflict engaged in by the United States. The surviving spouse must furnish appropriate documentation that spousal benefits are received as a result of the death of the armed forces members.
The Floating or Varying Homestead Exemption is an exemption which is available to homeowners 62 or older with gross household incomes of $30,000 or less. The exemption applies to state and county ad valorem taxes but it does not apply to school tax. The exemption is called a floating exemption because the amount of the exemption increases as the value of the homestead property is increased. However, since the exemption replaces any other state and county exemption already in place for the property, taxpayers should be very careful in making application since in many instances the granting of this exemption will initially at least increase the amount of taxes levied on the property.
Age 65 and Older Exemption from State Ad Valorem Taxes If you qualify for one of the other homestead exemption listed and are age 65 or older as of January 1, you also qualify for an exemption from the State portion of ad valorem taxes in an amount equal to 100% of the value of your home and up to 10 acres of land. The value of any additional land or improvements on the same parcel will be granted the standard maximum exemption of the homestead exemption for which you otherwise qualify.
The Un-remarried Surviving Spouse of a Firefighter or Peace Officer shall be granted total exemption from all ad valorem taxes levied, if such person’s spouse,
who as a member of a qualified Fire Department or Peace Officer Agency, stead Exemption is available for the surviving spouse, which provides an exemption for
the full value of the homestead with respect to all ad valorem taxes for the unmarried surviving spouse of a peace officer or firefighter who was killed or died
as a result of injury in the performance of their duty. Documents from the agency must be provided.
In addition to the various homestead exemptions that are authorized, the law also provides a Property Tax Deferral Program whereby
qualified homestead property owners 62 and older with gross household income of $15,000 or less may defer but not exempt the payment
of ad valorem taxes on a part or all of the homestead property. Generally, the tax would be deferred until the property ownership
changes or until such time that the deferred taxes plus interest reach a level equal to 85% of the fair market value of the property.
Two general types of specialized or preferential assessment programs are available for certain owners of certain types of property.
One of these programs authorizes assessment at 30% rather than 40% of fair market value for certain agricultural properties being
used for bona fide agricultural purposes.
The second type of preferential program is the Conservation Use program which provides that certain agricultural property, timber land property,
environmentally sensitive property, or residential transitional property is to be valued and assessed for ad valorem tax purposes at its current
use value rather than its fair market value.
Each of these specialized or preferential programs requires the property owner to covenant with the Board of Tax Assessors to maintain the property
in its qualified use for at least 10 years in order to qualify for the preference. The Board of Tax Assessors can explain the ownership and use
restrictions regarding property qualifying for either of these programs.
When the Board of Tax Assessors changes the value of property from the value in place for the preceding year or from the value that was returned by the taxpayer for the current year, a notice of that change must be sent to the property owner. The property owner desiring to appeal the change in value must do so within 45 days of the date of mailing of this assessment notice. The assessment appeal may be made on the basis of the taxability of the property, the value placed upon the property, or the uniformity of that value when compared to other similar properties in the county. Additionally, the appeal should not be based on any complaint about the amount of taxes levied on the property.
The appeal is filed with the Board of Tax Assessors who again reviews their valuation and the appeal filed and informs the taxpayer of its decision. If the taxpayer remains dissatisfied, the appeal is forwarded to the County Board of Equalization. A hearing is scheduled and conducted and the Board of Equalization renders its decision. If the taxpayer is still dissatisfied with the decision, an appeal to Superior Court may be made. In lieu of an administrative appeal with the Board of Equalization, an arbitration method of appeal is also available to the taxpayer. The Board of Tax Assessors can provide details regarding this procedure.