COLUMBUS, Ga. (June 27, 2002) – The Columbus Muscogee Tax Equalization Foundation won an important victory Monday when a superior court judge struck as unconstitutional a provision imposing a freeze on the valuation of property for tax purposes in Muscogee County.
The provision froze the value of residential property in Muscogee County for local tax purposes at its value on January 1, 1983, or the date on which it was last sold. As a result, two county residents owning homes of identical value could be assessed widely disparate property taxes. In some cases the difference was a high as 4000%. The freeze was a benefit in addition to the county's homestead exemption, which already was among the most generous in the state.
The judge in the case, Judge George Peavler of Americus, Georgia, held that the provision violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of both the Georgia and the United States Constitutions, as well as the Georgia Constitution's requirement of uniformity in taxation. Judge Peavler was appointed to rule in the case after all of the judges in Muscogee County had to recuse themselves.
"The present tax scheme in Muscogee County with its highly disparate tax treatment of similarly situated property owners does not pass constitutional muster," the Court wrote, noting that in some instances the freeze produced tax disparities on equivalent property as great as 4000%.
The lead attorney for the Plaintiffs, who include, in the addition to the Foundation, homeowners, apartment owners, and renters of property in Muscogee County, Randolph W. Thrower of Sutherland Asbill and Brennan LLP in Atlanta, stated that he was very pleased by the decision.
"The court has vindicated the rights of all of the citizens of Muscogee to fair and equal treatment," said Thrower. "Taxes are a burden that should be shared fairly by all citizens. Although counties can use homestead exemptions to protect the poor and the elderly, that is not what this provision did. It simply favored long time homeowners regardless of their ability to pay."
Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP is a national law firm known for solving challenging business problems and resolving unique legal issues for many of the nation's largest companies. Founded in 1924, the firm has grown to more than 350 lawyers with offices in Atlanta, Austin, New York, Tallahassee and Washington. For further information about the firm, please visit: sutherland.com.