By Tia Lynn Ivey
County leaders are hopeful that the Georgia Senate will rewrite House Bill 85—a bill that could potentially cost the county and school board a collective $1.5 million in annual state revenues—to prevent severe cuts in state reimbursements to Georgia counties. Georgia legislators held a panel discussion last Wednesday at the State Capitol Building in Atlanta to hear from parties with a vested interest in the outcome of the final bill.
House Bill 85 proposes changes to the Forest Land Protection Act of 2008 (FLPA) by revising the ad valorem taxes on qualifying properties and the methodology used to establish forestland fair market value. According to county officials, if the Georgia Senate approves these changes, the county could lose state reimbursements for properties in the FLPA program. Last year, the county and the school system received $1.7 million collectively in reimbursements. The State of Georgia provides these reimbursements to counties with participating properties.
The program allows timber companies to place their lands in 15-year covenants, agreeing to forgo development of the land in exchange for a significant reduction in property taxes. The state then reimburses Georgia counties to compensate for the loss in tax revenues from participating timber companies. Reimbursements are calculated based on the number of properties a county has in the program and the fair market value of those properties. Morgan County currently has 27,000 acres covered by the FLPA program.
Chuck Anglin, chief appraiser for Morgan County and president of the Georgia Association of Assessment Officials, participated in a panel meeting last Wednesday at the state capitol building in Atlanta to persuade lawmakers to alter House Bill 85.
According to Anglin, state legislators indicated that they would consider rewriting the bill in order to address the concerns of Georgia counties who stand to lose state reimbursements under the proposed funding formula.
“They are going to make some changes,” said Anglin. “But we don’t know what those changes will be yet. We don’t know what they are going to do…We made our concerns known and now we have to wait
to see what they will do. [Legislators] realized that some of the counties are going to get hurt and others are going to benefit with the way the bill is written now. They are worried about the ones that are not benefitting right now at all.”
According to Anglin, state legislators made no promises to specific changes and did not issue a timeline for a decision.