Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fran Millar pledges “to enact true property tax assessment reform”

In campaign ads in the DeKalb Neighbor leading up to the recent election, north DeKalb state senator Fran Millar highlighted his plans for the 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly. He indicated that he will pass legislation to renew the property value freeze in DeKalb, and that he plans to “pass my legislation to enact true property tax assessment reform.”

During the 2014 session, Sen. Millar sponsored Senate Bill 293 which would have made changes to assessment calculations and to the appeal process. SB 293 passed the state senate but not the state house. Apparently, the initial drafts of the bill were written by property tax litigator Walter Hotz, who lamented the bill’s defeat in a blog post in June. Here’s Mr. Hotz’s explanation of the bill’s intent and his account of what happened to the bill in the House:
For this year’s legislative session, I was asked by a group of Georgia Senators to re-write the real property tax appeal laws for the state of Georgia for the purpose of providing safeguards and rights for Georgia real property owners.

The present laws were heavily weighted in favor of the tax assessors (each county in Georgia) and the Senators wanted to “level the playing field” for property owners. I was honored to have been selected for the task and, although it took more than 100 hours of my time, I was glad to do it. The present law had been drafted by the counties and their lobbyists. If you scoured deep you might find a little “right” for the property owner here and there in the present tax code but the drafters had made certain that whatever rights you had in the existing code, you had no way to enforce those rights – so the counties could simply ignore same with impunity – which many counties did – and there was nothing you could do – to say the code was well designed for the tax assessors would be a gross understatement.

So, the Georgia Senate wanted to do something about it. My suggested changes were put into Bill format by the Senate’s legislative counsel and the Bill was designated as SB 293. SB 293, as I drafted same, gave many rights to the property owner, most of which were commonsensical – rights that you would have thought certainly should have been given to the property owner – in fact, you would be appalled that such rights had not already been given to the property owner.

I appeared as the expert on tax appeal laws and testified before the Senate Finance committee and before the House Judiciary committee. The Bill and your rights were approved unanimously by the Senate Finance committee and received a two-thirds approval in the overall Senate – but then it went to the House Judiciary committee.

The Bill first went to the House Judiciary sub-committee. The House Judiciary sub-committee tore your rights apart and as to anything left, destroyed any enforcement provisions the Bill had given you. I was shocked when not only were they shredding your rights that the Senate wanted you to have but one member on the sub-committee wanted to add certain “penalties” to the property owner – I couldn’t believe she wanted to do so but she did – thankfully her suggested penalties against the taxpayer were not accepted. Then, when the Bill got to the full House Judiciary committee, the final death knell was struck…

Read the rest here.  The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia also plans to push for changes to property tax administration in 2015.

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