A group put together to look at Effingham County’s tax situation has begun its work.
The Effingham tax study committee was enacted by legislation drawn up by state Rep. Jon Burns and passed last April. The study committee is functioning as an independent group, Burns said. The group will present its recommendations to the county’s legislative delegation in early March.
“That will give them time to give us whatever legislation they recommend,” Burns said.
Originally, the committee was to be formed and have its work completed by Dec. 31, 2007. But the GREAT plan authored by Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson and its potential impacts pushed forming the committee back.
Created by HR 955, the tax study committee was created because the county “is experiencing significant growth and development,” according to the resolution. The resolution also states there is a need to review the means and methods of financing county services and that the tax structure and mix of revenue sources is fairly spread and equitably apportioned.
HR 955 also calls for other revenue sources to be considered in light of the county’s growth and development, such as impact fees. It also says that longtime county residents have seen their property taxes escalate because of the growth and the increased property values that have resulted. The resolution calls for a look at how homestead exemptions can alleviate some of the property tax burdens.
The study committee has 11 members, and Burns, state Rep. Buddy Carter and state Sen. Jack Hill each appointed two members. The school board, county commissioners and the three city councils also appointed one member each.
Thomas Kessler was selected as the group’s chairman.
The group will meet no more than five times but can ask for advice or information from private or public parties. Chief Tax Assessor Janis Bevill addressed the group at its first meeting to discuss the assessment process.
“I feel strongly we need to put a cap on assessments and make sure they are equal,” said Commissioner Hubert Sapp.
Sapp noted disparities in property evaluations — with a half acre being valued at $50,000 and a tract of more than 2 acres next to it assessed at $27,000. He also said a one-acre parcel without water or sewer service was valued at $50,000 but a 30-acre tract, with five or six upland acres, was valued at $27,000.
“We’ve got a problem with valuations,” he said. “If that’s state law, the state law needs to be changed.”
Sapp also called for county staff to have a different mindset on the taxing situation.
“They are worried about not having enough money,” he said.
The taxpayers bill of rights, known as TABOR, was put in to protect taxpayers, Sapp said, but the driving force behind the rising land values has been sales.
“When you roll taxes back, you benefit the ones who are causing the taxes to go up,” he said.