HOMEOWNERS TAX RELIEF GRANT
SPECIALIZED AND PREFERENTIAL ASSESSMENT PROGRAMS
Several types of homestead exemptions have been enacted to reduce the burden of ad valorem taxation for Georgia homeowners. These exemptions apply to homestead property owned by taxpayer and occupied as his or her legal residence (some exceptions to this rule apply and your tax assessors office can explain them to you).
To receive the benefit of the homestead exemption, the taxpayer must file an initial application. In Dougherty County, the application is filed with the Tax Assessors. 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 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. In addition, local governments are authorized to provide for increased exemption amounts and several have done so. The Tax Department can answer questions regarding the standard exemptions as well as any local exemption that are in place.
The Local County Exemptions supersede the state exemption amount when the local exemption is greater than the state exemption.
The City of Albany has such an exemption:
The City of Albany has a $2,000 homestead exemption for ad valorem taxes granted to persons 65 years of age or older.
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 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 owner of a dwelling house of a farm that is granted homestead exemption may also claim a homestead exemption in participation with the program of rural housing under contract with the local housing authority. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-44)
Surviving Spouse Homestead Exemption - An un-remarried surviving spouse may continue to receive the homestead exemption at the base value established for the deceased spouse, upon application and qualification. This exemption only applies to those counties that passed a local base year floating exemption.
The Standard Elderly School Tax Homestead Exemption is an increased homestead exemption for homeowners 62 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 applies to school tax including 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. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-52)
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 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. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-47)
Homestead Exemption for Senior Citizens is in an amount equal to the actual levy for state ad valorem tax purposes on the residence and no more than 10 acres of land. This exemption is in addition to any other homestead to which the applicant qualifies.
The Disabled Veterans Homestead Exemption is available to certain disabled veterans or to the un-remarried spouse or minor children 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 and proof of disability, either from the Veterans Administration or from a private physician in certain circumstances. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-48)
The Surviving Spouse of Member of Armed Forces killed in Action Exemption is available to the un-remarried 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 from the Department of Defense that spousal benefits are received as a result of the death of the armed forces member. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-52.1)
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 member. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-52.1)
Peace Officer or Firefighter Homestead 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 un-remarried surviving spouse of a peace officer or firefighter who was killed in the line of duty. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-40)
Tax Exemption for Farm Equipment is expanded to include tax exemption for agricultural products and equipment to include certain additional farm equipment held under a lease purchase agreement.
The Floating or Varying Homestead Exemption is an exemption which is available to homeowner 62 or older with gross household income 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. Since, however, 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. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-47.1)
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. (O.C.G.A.48-5-72)
Approval or Denial of Homestead: With respect to all of the homestead exemptions, the Board of Tax Assessors makes the final determination as to eligibility; however, if the application is denied the taxpayer must be notified and an appeal procedure then is available for the taxpayer.
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HOMEOWNERS TAX RELIEF GRANT
The Homeowners Tax Relief Grant, authorized by the Governor and the General Assembly provides a tax relief credit in the amount of up to $8,000 in assessed value for all homeowners who are receiving one of the normal homestead exemptions. This relief is shown on the property tax bill for state, county, school, and city purposes as a credit against taxes that otherwise would have been due. The Homeowners Tax Relief Grant was not funded by the Governor and the General Assembly for the 2009 property tax year.
Tax Commissioner Note: This grant will be solely from the legislature each year and is dependent upon future state funds being available. Should state funds not be available to grant this credit, your taxes will increase as the county, school system, and city is reimburses each year from the state by the amount of the credits granted on your tax bill . If state funds should not be available for disbursement, your tax bill will increase with no fault of the Tax Commissioner, the county, school system, or the city. For more information:
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SPECIALIZED AND PREFERENTIAL ASSESSMENT PROGRAMS
Two general types of specialized or preferential assessment programs are available for certain owners of certain types of property. One of these programs, Preferential Agricultural Assessment, 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 programs 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.
WHAT IS CONSERVATION USE?
Conservation Use was approved by an overwhelming majority of Georgia voters in an effort to encourage agricultural landowners to keep their land in production in exchange for favorable tax treatment. This favorable tax treatment is designed to protect these property owners from being pressured by the property tax burden to convert their land from agricultural use to residential or commercial use, hence the name "conservation use" assessment. In return for the favorable tax treatment the property owner must keep the land undeveloped in a qualifying use for a period of ten years or incur stiff penalties.
Applications for current use assessment must be filed with the county Board of Tax Assessors on or before the last day for filing ad valorem tax returns in the county (April 1). A recording fee must accompany all applications.
- Owner must be an individual or family farm corporation, estate, trust or non- profit organization.
- Owner agrees to maintain the property in a qualifying use of "good faith" production of agricultural products or timber for 10 years.
- Owner cannot have over 2,000 acres statewide in the Conservation Use Program.
- The Tax Assessors Office may request additional information regarding the use of the property if the office feels it is necessary to determine if the property qualifies for the exemption. Information that may be requested is Schedule F (Property or Loss from Farm Income), Form 4562 Depreciation, or Crop Production Records the owner maintains. (mandatory on tracts less than 10 acres)
CONSERVATION USE VALUES
- Conservation values are set by the State of Georgia and cannot be appealed by the taxpayer, however, the Board of Tax Assessors must still maintain the fair market value on the property which may still be appealed by the taxpayer.
- The Conservation values established by the state are made up of a combination of the capitalized income that could be produced from the land and market value. The ratio is 65% income and 35% fair market value.
- The maximum amount that conservation values may be increased is 3% per year or a maximum of 34.39% over the 10-year Covenant.
- The amount of savings on your tax bill cannot be determined at this time. The valuation for conservation use is available on your property upon request. You then can compare the fair market value to the conservation use value.
- Agricultural buildings may be included in the covenant. Although, the current values will not change on the buildings, these buildings would be subject only to the 3% per year maximum increase.
BREACH ON CONTRACT
- If the owner breaks the Covenant a penalty of twice the taxes saved by the taxpayer will be imposed an interest at the rate of 1% per month will be assessed if not immediately reported.
- If the Covenant is broken as a result of death or eminent domain (condemnation) no penalty will be assessed.
- If the Covenant is broken as a result of medically demonstrable illness or foreclose, the penalty will be the amount of taxes saved for the current year only.
- Leases or contracts for billboard signs, or any type of non-qualifying use will breach the Covenant and all penalties will apply. Hunting and cellular tower leases are allowed.
- If the property is sold, and if the purchaser continues using the property as it was originally covenanted then no penalty would be assessed. Purchaser must sign covenant agreeing to no change in use. However, the taxpayer should be aware that if the use changes during the 10-year period all penalties would apply.
- If the owner desires to omit a portion of a tract from the Covenant they must present to the Assessor's satisfaction a clearly defined description of the portion under the Covenant and a clearly defined description of the portion not under the Covenant.
- The property owner may give up to 5.0 acres to a relative within the 4th degree of civil reckoning provided that relative builds a house on the property received within one year and resides in the house for the remainder of the 10-year period.
- Property is allowed to lie fallow or idle for up to 2 years within any 5-year period.
- Property owners over age 65 who renew their Covenant may elect after 3 years into the second 10-year Covenant to terminate the Covenant by filing in writing a declaration with the Tax Assessor's office.
The Georgia Forest Land Protection Act
The Georgia Forest Land Protection Act of 2008 (A.C.T. 48-5-7.7) provides for an ad valorem tax exemption for property primarily used for the good faith subsistence or commercial production of trees, timber, or other wood fiber products and excludes the entire value of any residence located on the property.
Forest land conservation use property may include land that has been certified as environmentally sensitive property by the Department of Natural Resources or property that is kept in accordance with a recognized sustainable forestry certification program. The property may have secondary uses such as the promotion, preservation, or management of wildlife habitat; carbon sequestration in accordance with the Georgia Carbon Sequestration Registry; mitigation and conservation banking that results in restoration or conservation of wetlands and other natural resources; or the production and maintenance of ecosystem products and services such as, but not limited to, clean air and water.
This 15-year covenant agreement between the taxpayer and local board of assessors is limited to forest land tracts consisting of more than 200 acres when owned by an individual or individuals or by any entity registered to do business in Georgia. Property that qualifies for forest land conservation use assessment and that is already receiving preferential or current use assessment can be changed one time to a forest land conservation use covenant without penalty.
Due date for application is April 1st.
Rehabilitated and Landmark Historic Property
Historic property that qualifies for listing on the Georgia or National Register of Historic Places may qualify for preferential assessment. The preferential assessment shall extend to the building or structure, the real property on which the building or structure is located, and not more than two acres surrounding the building or structure. The real property receiving preferential assessment may not be changed for a period of nine years. Property under this special program must be certified by the Department of Natural Resources as rehabilitated historic property or landmark historic property.
Property which qualifies for participation in the State's Hazardous Site Reuse and Redevelopment Program and which has been designated as such by the Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources may qualify for preferential assessment. This special program provides for the preferential assessment of environmental and contaminated property by freezing the value for ten years as an incentive for developers to clean up the property and return it to the tax rolls. It also allows an eligible owner to recoup the eligible costs associated with the cleanup of this type property against their tax liability.
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 the specified term 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. Substantial penalties result if the Covenant is broken. Additional information is available at:
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The governing authority of any county or municipality may, subject to the approval of the electors of such political subdivision, except from ad valorem taxation, including all such taxes levied for educational purposes and for State purposes, all or any of the following types of tangible property. Application for this exemption must be made each year by April 1 in order to receive the maximum exemption on qualifying Inventory.
- Inventory of goods in the process of manufacture or production, which shall include all partly finished goods and raw materials, held for direct use or consumption in the ordinary course of the taxpayer's manufacturing or production business in the State of Georgia.
- Inventory of finished goods manufactured or produced within the State of Georgia in the ordinary course of the taxpayer's manufacturing or production business when held by the original manufacturer or producer of such finished goods. The exemption provided for herein shall be for a period not exceeding twelve (12) months from the date such property is produced or manufactured.
- Inventory of finished goods which, on the first day of January, are stored in a warehouse, dock or wharf, whether public or private, and which are destined for shipment to a final destination outside the State of Georgia and inventory of finished goods which are shipped into the State of Georgia form outside the State and stored for transshipment to a final destination outside this State. The exemption provided for herein shall be for a period not exceeding twelve (12) months from the date such property is stored in this State.
For further details on Freeport exemption, read O.C.G.A. 48-5-48.2 in its entirety or contact the Tax Assessors office. Also use the following link:
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