Owners of agricultural land, timberland and environmentally sensitive land may qualify for conservation use assessment under O.C.G.A. Section 48-5-7.4. The Georgia Revenue Commissioner has the responsibility of annually determining the values for ad valorem tax purposes of this type land and publishing rules and regulations to help county tax assessors determine the values of property that qualify for conservation use assessment.
Conservation use property is assessed at 40% of current use value which gives a reduced assessment to the owner of this type property when compared to other property assessed at 40% of fair market value. This favorable tax treatment is designed to protect these property owners from being pressured by the property tax burden to convert their land from agricultural use to residential or commercial use, hence the name "conservation use" assessment. In return for the favorable tax treatment, the property owner must keep the land undeveloped in a qualifying use for a period of ten years or incur stiff penalties. Owners who breach their conservation use covenant must pay back to the taxing authorities twice the savings they have received over the life of the covenant up to the point it was breached.
Applications for current use assessment must be filed with the county board of tax assessors on or before the last day for filing ad valorem tax returns in the county.
Valuation of Conservation Use Property
Specially trained staff appraisers of the Georgia Property Tax Division determine values of conservation use property after consultation with the Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Agricultural Statistical Service, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Cooperative Extension Service. Values are determined according to a statutory scheme that takes mostly into account the ability of the soil to grow certain agricultural commodities, but also weighs in the typical selling price when sales of land are made from "farmer to farmer" and not from "farmer to developer". The resulting table of current use land values differs according to the soil productivity with "1" being assigned to the most productive land and "9" being assigned to the least productive land. There are eighteen soil productivity classes:
- A1 - A9 is for agricultural land (crop land and pasture land), and
- W1 - W9 is for timberland.
There are over 900 different soil types that have been identified by the Soil Conservation Service of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. The Revenue Commissioner has grouped these soil types into the eighteen soil productivity classes.
Example: If a farmer has 1,000 acres of A6 crop land and the Department of Revenue has assigned a value of $250/acre to A6 crop land in this particular district, then the value of the land would be $250,000 (or $250 per acre). If the farmer lived in a district where the millage rate was 25 mills (or $25 per $1,000 of assessed value) he would owe $2,500 in property taxes on his crop land (40% of $250,000 is the assessed value of $100,000, then multiply $25 for every $1,000 which is equal to $2,500).