On Nov. 6, Georgia voters will have an opportunity to weigh in on Amendment 3, a critical property tax reform legislation that will directly impact the conservation and vitality of the state’s 22 million acres of privately-owned forests. The amendment is focused on creating more uniformity in the valuation process for timberland across the state’s 159 counties.
Ninety percent of Georgia’s forests, which cover two-thirds of the land area of the state, are privately owned. Much of that land is owned by tens of thousands of private, non-industrial
landowners whose stewardship serves to clean our water and air while providing valuable wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation. In addition to the environmental services they provide, private forests provide more than 5,000 household products, rural jobs and an economic underpinning that makes the state the top forestry state in the United States.
Despite this thriving industry, the average property tax per acre in Georgia is 3 times higher than the southeastern average, putting the state at a competitive disadvantage with our neighbors. This disparity is partly due to the way that timberland is valued for property taxation purposes. Georgia has more than 159 counties and therefore 159 different interpretations of the valuation of timberland for property taxation purposes. To address this issue, Amendment 3 was approved by the Georgia General Assembly and signed by Governor Nathan Deal earlier this year as House Resolution 51 and House Bill 85. Primary provisions of the legislation include:
- Uniformity: Establishing a new class of land that is assessed at fair market value as determined by the Department of Revenue. This new class of property gives landowners another option on how they will be taxed. Most importantly, it establishes uniformity by empowering the State Department of Revenue to assess forestland rather than 159 different county tax assessors.
- Conservation: Increasing the acres eligible for conservation under the Forest Land Protection Act (FLPA). There are more than 4.7 million acres of timberland that are not enrolled in a conservation incentive program, such as Conservation Use Valuation Assessment (CUVA) or FLPA. They pay on average $15 per acre in ad valorem taxes. These acres are at the highest risk of conversion to other uses. Under Amendment 3, an aggregate of 200 acres across the state may qualify (if parcels exceed 100 acres in any given county).
- Funding: Maintaining Local Assistance Grants for counties and schools under the Forest Land Protection Act. The legislation simply adjusts the FLPA formula used in calculating local assistance grants to counties and school boards so that it is accurate. Currently some counties are being overpaid and others are being underpaid for their reimbursements (assistance grants) from the state. A five-year phase in mechanism will be established to ease the transition for counties that received unfair over payments.
“Property taxes are the biggest expense for forest landowners,” Andres Villegas, president and CEO of the Georgia Forestry Association, said. “Forest landowners incur annual expenses on their property for management costs and property taxes, but they may not see a return on their investment for 25-30 years. Our property tax system must take into account the long-term investment nature of owning forestland.”
The Georgia Forestry Association and a coalition of organizations are supporting the passage of Amendment 3, including the Georgia Conservancy, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Agribusiness Council, Southeastern Wood Producers Association, Tall Timbers, Georgia Tree Farm Program, Georgia Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Georgia Paper and Forest Products Association. To learn more about Amendment 3, visit www.fairforesttax.org.
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