Most of us have seen our 2023 property tax assessments, and many of us were shocked by them. The average assessment was up approximately 22%, and many were up more than that.
The assessment notices provide an estimate of your tax bill, assuming the tax rates don’t change from last year. However, that’s not a valid assumption; the rates can change.
When values are way up, they usually can be lowered and still meet the budget needs. The Board of Education (BOE), which sets the school tax rates, usually prepares its budget before the Board of Commissioners (BOC) does. If they haven’t set their rates by the time you read this, they’ll be doing so soon.
The BOC will hold its first hearing on county tax rates on July 18, and two more hearings on Aug. 1 before setting the rates that evening. I believe the BOC will reduce the rates it controls.
The BOC appoints the Cherokee County Board of Tax Assessors. But, by law, we can’t tell them what to do, or remove them during their six-year terms. They also have to follow strict state guidelines aimed at keeping the assessment at market value. State auditors check behind them and can penalize the county if they’re more than 5% above or below market value.
Tax rates controlled by the BOC currently are the 28th lowest of the 159 counties in Georgia. That’s despite not having a local-option sales tax, like almost all other counties have, to drive down property taxes directly. Combining BOC-controlled property taxes and sales taxes, we’re the fourth lowest in the state!
Cherokee County also has one of the most generous homestead exemptions. For purposes of our county maintenance and operation tax, the homestead exemption rises automatically to keep your net taxable value flat for as long as you own your home. Sometimes, taxpayers don’t notice the BOC’s low rates and generous exemption, because the BOC-controlled taxes make up less than a third of the typical tax bill.
The school tax rates set by the BOE are about average for Georgia. They’re still a good value, with our schools being much better than the state average. The school taxes also are subject to one of the more generous senior homeowner exemptions in the state. At age 62, homeowners can get the first $485,500 of their home’s market value exempted from school tax. That amount increases each year by the same percentage as the Social Security cost of living adjustment.
Two nearby counties have a 100% unlimited senior exemption, and a few have a 50% unlimited exemption. But most Georgia counties do not offer significant senior exemptions that aren’t limited by income. It takes a county-specific act of the Georgia Legislature, and then a voter referendum, to change this exemption. Neither the BOC nor the BOE can do it.
The deadline to appeal assessments will have expired by the time this is published. However, many taxpayers will have appealed. In doing so, they have to show that similar homes in similar neighborhoods have sold for less. If they can do that, their appeals should be approved.
As always, I’m interested in your thoughts about this and other county issues. Email me at email@example.com.
– Harry Johnston is chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners. He’s a retired CPA and accounting manager, and a former district commissioner.