(FORSYTH COUNTY, GA) As anyone looking at real estate recently knows, home prices have been on the rise. In Forsyth County, the average home price increased 21.62% in the past year.
While increased home equity is usually a positive, it didn’t stop many homeowners from feeling shocked when they received their estimated tax assessment notices this year. Sky-high home values translated into higher assessments - which means higher tax bill estimates for many residents. Some taxpayers feel that inflated home values have caused a property tax windfall for local governments.
“Forsyth [County] is one of the most desired places to live in Georgia,” says Russell J. Brown, Assistant Director of the Forsyth County Department of Communications. “When that is coupled with the rising home values nationwide and what people are buying and selling for currently, values are rising locally which is being represented in the property assessments mailed to residents recently.”
How can you better understand your property tax estimate? First, we'll talk about millage rates. Next, we'll break down what each element of the bill means. Finally, we'll share some tips for making sure you are taking advantage of ways to reduce your property tax bill in Forsyth County.
What is a millage rate?
If you look at your estimate, you'll notice several references to millage rates. A millage rate is simply another way to talk about the property tax rate. It refers to the percentage of a property’s value that the local government or school system may levy as a tax. Governments may adjust the mill rate depending on how much they decide to collect in property taxes.
Mills are expressed as a number rather than a percentage, but one mill is equal to 0.1%. If a government wanted to levy a 1% property tax, for example, that would be the same as a millage rate of 10.
With that in mind, below is a table showing the proposed 2022 millage rates for each of the relevant taxing authorities:
As the table shows, millage rates remained constant in Forsyth County from 2021-2022 except for a decrease in the school bond rate - more on that below.
Understanding the property tax estimate
As shown in the above table, the property tax assessment lists five taxing authorities: school operations, school bond, county operations, county bond, and county fire.
Operations funds go to day-to-day operational expenses. Bonds, however, are a way for the school system and the county to borrow money for projects. Investors purchase the bonds, which eventually have to be repaid with interest. Taxpayers generally must approve bond measures.
Due to the way the proposed millage rates are set, the biggest factor driving higher bills for many Forsyth County homeowners is school operations. Forsyth County Chief Appraiser Mary Kirkpatrick explains, “Even though fair market property values have increased 18 to 20% over the past year, residents with a floating homestead exemption will see very little if any increase on the county portion of their tax bill. Approximately 95% of the increase most homeowners will see on their tax bill will be a result of the school’s operation and bond estimated tax.”
However, Forsyth County Schools, the largest employer in Forsyth County, pointed out on its website that the district has maintained the same operational millage rate – 17.3 – for the past eight years. This 2023 proposed budget actually included a decrease in the school bond millage rate from 2.418 to 1.418.
Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden explained why they made this change. “For those of you who live in Forsyth County like me, you have likely seen an increase in your projected property taxes,” shared Dr. Bearden. “Why? The market has driven property values to historic levels. The increase is not a result of the school district. However, we understand the challenges of our economy, and have lowered the debt services millage rate [the bond rate] to ease the burden for taxpayers.”
However, the reduction in the school bond rate doesn’t go far enough if you ask some Forsyth County taxpayers. At a June 21 Board of Education meeting, many residents expressed their frustrations with the proposed millage rates in light of the higher assessments.
Ways you may be able to lower your property taxes in Forsyth County
Now that you understand your bill better, what can you do to make sure you are taking advantage of what Forsyth County makes available to lower it? Review our three tips below to help make sure you haven’t missed any ideas.
1. Consider appealing your home’s assessment
It makes sense that higher home prices lead to higher assessments. “The Board of Assessors determines property assessments based on standards set by the Department of Revenue that requires assessments to be based on fair market value,” explained Brown. But for certain properties, this formula could be off, such as when a home should be valued differently compared to nearby properties.
If you think that your home’s assessment is too high even in light of the current market situation, you may appeal the value within 45 days of the date on your assessment notice. Since the notices went out on May 27 this year, the last day to file an appeal will be July 11. Keep in mind, however, that filing an appeal does not mean that your property assessment will go down. Your appeal may be denied, or your assessment can even go up.
The Forsyth County Board of Tax Assessors offers a way to file an appeal online. When you visit the site, you can find your property by name, address, or parcel number. When you find your property, you should see the online appeal option. Look at the property values for nearby similar homes using this tool to see if your assessment measures up to theirs, and check your property’s description to make sure it is accurate.
If you decide to pursue an appeal, there are three different options. The first, no-fee option is the Board of Equalization. In this option, your case goes before three citizens appointed by a grand jury to hear property tax appeals. The other two options are not free and involve pursuing arbitration or, for properties valued at more than $500,000, appealing to a hearing officer to the Superior Court.
2. Make sure you are claiming all relevant exemptions
Property tax exemptions can help you reduce your overall tax bill by deducting a certain amount from the assessed value of your home. In Forsyth County, residents are already taxed only on 40% of the assessed value of the home. Exemptions further reduce the value to lower the overall amount due.
There are several different types of exemptions available to Forsyth County residents.
This is the exemption residents are probably most familiar with because more people are eligible for it. You may be eligible if you are a property owner who resides on the property and is a legal resident of the County. There are two basic types of the homestead exemption:
- Regular: The regular homestead exemption reduces your home’s assessment by $8,000 against the count M&O and fire portion of the millage rate. The school and state portion of the millage rate is reduced by $2,000 with this exemption.
- Floating: This exemption provides that, in the absence of a millage rate increase, the county government and fire portion of the taxes will be held constant when there is a property value increase. However, school and state taxes will continue to be calculated based on the current value of the home.
Total School Tax Homestead Exemption
If you are a Forsyth County homeowner at least 65 years of age by January 1 of the relevant tax year, you may be entitled to a full exemption in the school general and school bond tax categories. As of 2017, you may still be eligible even if there are minor children in the home under certain circumstances.
Other School Tax Homestead Exemption
Forsyth County homeowners who are 62 years of age by January 1 of the relevant tax year may be eligible for school tax exemptions based on household income. Local legislation provides for a school tax exemption for the home and up to three acres or $20,000, whichever is greater, as long as gross household income doesn’t exceed $16,000. Under state law, these homeowners are also eligible for a $10,000 school tax exemption against the school portion of the millage rate if the net household income is $10,000 or less.
Homeowners who are at least 65 years of age by January 1 of the tax year may be eligible for a double homestead exemption, worth up to $16,000, as long as the gross income from all sources in the household does not exceed $40,000.
In addition to the above exemptions, Forsyth County also offers exempts for disabled taxpayers, disabled veterans, and surviving spouses. There are also preferential agriculture, brownfield property, freeport, preferential historic, residential/transitional, and conservation use exemptions. Residents can find more information about all of these exemptions on the Forsyth County Board of Assessors website.
Note that you may apply for any of these exemptions year-round, but they will only count for that tax year if you apply before April 1.
To apply for any of these exemptions, you will need your driver’s license or other state issued-ID and the appropriate applications. The applications must be notarized; however, a notary is available at the Board of Assessors office for no charge.
3. Attend a millage rate hearing
The proposed county millage rates for operations, bond, and fire are the same as they were in 2021. But these rates are not yet set in stone. The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners will be holding three public hearings about the proposed millage rates. The first two will be held on Thursday, July 8, one at 11 am and the second at 5 pm. A third public hearing will be held at 6 pm on Thursday, July 22. All of the hearings will be at the Forsyth County Administration Building in downtown Cumming.
Forsyth County has announced a 4.54% growth in the tax digest, meaning that the anticipated total collections will increase even though the proposed millage rates remained the same as in 2021. New construction accounted for 2.52% of the growth, but the remaining 2.02% is due to the reassessments. At the hearings, residents will have the opportunity to discuss these issues with county officials.
Residents may also want to attend a town hall meeting on June 29 at the Fowler Park meeting room. Sponsored by the Forsyth County Republican Party, Forsyth County Young Republicans, and the Forsyth County Tea Party, the meeting will feature several local officials to discuss the higher property tax assessments.
How do you feel about higher home prices and higher property tax assessments in Forsyth County? Comment below or email email@example.com to let us know.