Property Value Determination
Property tax is an ad valorem tax based upon the value of property, both real and personal. Real property is defined as land and generally anything that is erected, growing, or affixed to the land. Personal property is boats, airplanes, business inventory, and any equipment, furniture, and fixtures needed to run a business.
Property taxes are charged against the owner of the property as of January 1, and against the property itself if the owner is not known. Property tax returns are to be filed between January 1 and April 1 with the county Assessor's Office.
Fair Market Value
The assessors are charged with establishing the fair market value of the taxable real and personal properties in Lowndes County. Fair market value means "the amount a knowledgeable buyer would pay for the property and a willing seller would accept for the property at an arm's length, bona fide sale."
The Board of Assessors does not create property values. Assessors and appraisers merely interpret what is happening in the market place. The appraised value is simply the estimate of what the property is worth.
The Assessors use standard approaches in setting the value on all real and personal property. There are 3 approaches to value:
- Cost Approach: The cost approach uses actual replacement cost of the building, less general depreciation, plus the value of the land
- Income Approach: The income approach is used for income-producing properties. It involves capitalizing the net income to arrive at a probable selling price for the property
- Market Approach: The market approach involves analyzing sales of similar properties to predict the likely selling price of unsold properties
Special Assessment Programs
There are special assessment programs available to taxpayers. These special programs include:
Preferential Agricultural Property
Bona fide agricultural property can be assessed at 75% of the assessment of other property. This means that this type of property is assessed at 30% of fair market value rather than 40%. Property that qualifies for this special assessment must be maintained in its current use for a period of 10 years.
Conservation Use Property
Bona fide agricultural property can be assessed at its current use value rather than the fair market value. Property that qualifies for this special assessment must be maintained in a current use for a period of 10 years.
Environmentally Sensitive Property
Property can be assessed at its current use value rather than the fair market value when such property is maintained in its natural condition and meets the requirements set by the Department of Natural Resources. Property that qualifies for this special assessment must be maintained in a current use for a period of 10 years.
Residential Transitional Property
Property can be assessed at its current use value, rather than fair market value, when it is used for residential purposes but located in an area that is changing to, or being developed for, a use other than residential.
Standing timber is not taxed until sold or harvested, at which time it is taxed based upon 100% of its fair market value. There are 3 types of sales and harvests that are taxable:
- Lump sum sales where the timber is sold at a specific price regardless of volume
- Owner harvests where a land owner harvests his own timber and sells it by volume
- Unit price sales where the timber is sold or harvested based on a specific price per volume
Equipment, Machinery, & Fixtures
Equipment, machinery, and fixtures are assessed at 40% of fair market value. The tax assessor may value the equipment, machinery, and fixtures of a going business to reflect the fair market value of the business as a whole. When no ready market exists for the sale of equipment, machinery, and fixtures, a fair market value may be determined by resorting to any reasonable, relevant, and useful information available. This information may include, but is not limited to, the original cost of the property, depreciation or obsolescence, and any increase in value by reason of inflation. Other determining factors include:
- Existing zoning of property
- Existing use of property
- Existing covenant or restrictions in deed dedicating the property to a particular use
- Any other important factors
Tax assessors have access to any public records in order to discover such information.