Augusta property owners overall saw a sharp increase in their tax assessments this year because home prices have increased drastically and many properties were undervalued for tax purposes, according to Richmond County’s chief tax appraiser.
Chief Appraiser Scott Rountree briefed Augusta commissioners about the recent assessment-change notices that prompted a barrage of phone calls from irate property owners to commissioners.
“I asked Director Rountree to come today because I think we need to educate the public on the need to increase property assessments and on the appeals process,” said Commissioner Sean Frantom.
“The properties around my house, they increased in value and were sold. And I get that,” he said. “But with the millage the way it is, just in my house, a $900 increase for next year. I think we really have to educate the people on the why that this is happening. I even had a 2010 car that went up in value for the first time. I’ll just have to pay an additional $90.”
Rountree said the county has undergone a mass appraisal to bring undervalued properties up to fair market value as required by law. The appraisal uses criteria directed by the state Department of Revenue and the Georgia Code and carried out by the Richmond County appraisal staff.
The assessment process begins with statistical studies of sales that are going on in Augusta-Richmond County with comparisons of the county’s assessed values with arms-length transactions going on in the market. The studies will guide the appraisers to specific neighborhoods that are over-valued or under-valued or even lacking in uniformity, Rountree said.
“Studies we started last year using the 2021 sales and comparing them against our tax valuations indicated that by the end of the year, our assessed values were going to be 20 percent to 30 percent below fair market value, and that adjustments were going to have to be necessary,” Rountree said.
“When the entire county is showing these massive levels of appreciation, our values are starting to be much lower than they need to be. Our objective from the department of audits and the state is to be well within 10 percent of what fair market value is. And we were looking at close to 30 percent below fair market value. And those agencies are auditing us and making sure we’re staying in compliance with what’s required.
“So, we’re seeing these increases just last year. It was also in 2020, where the typical average home increased 1 percent every month over the last 24 months of 2020 and 2021.”
The changes shifted the values to 96%-97% of true fair market value. Countywide, there are 70,000 homes and about 100,000 parcels total, Rountree said.
The overall tax digest for real estate increased 18.5%, and about 88% of that was due to inflation, he said.
In 2020, the average value of homes went from $110,000 to about $140,000 to $150,000. And the actual sales going on in the market, the average home price in 2020 was about $146,000. This year, it was about $175,000, Rountree said.
Assessment notices for 70,000 homes and other properties were mailed May 20, and appeals have already begun. Property owners have until July 5 to file an appeal.
Business personal property notices will be mailed next month, Rountree said.
Augusta commissioners will have to look at the millage rate and might have to roll it back once the appeals process is complete because the county can’t collect any more money because of the assessments without announcing a property-tax increase and holding three public meetings.
“Until after appeals are settled, you don’t know how much the rollback will be,” said Commissioner Dennis Williams.
Commissioner Brandon Garrett said commissioners were blindsided by the assessment increases, and he asked Rountree whether he could give them a heads-up when such changes were coming.
Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. said higher home prices are a trend across the country and that property tax assessments have lagged behind property values. He said there shouldn’t be any knee-jerk reactions.
“I don’t think there’s anything the commission needs to do,” he said.