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Dougherty tax digest: 24 percent tax-exempt

Darton State College

Darton State College

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Joe Bellacomo

Mt. Zion Baptist Church

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Joe Bellacomo

Albany State University

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Joe Bellacomo

Sherwood Baptist Church

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Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

ALBANY, Ga. -- It's what Dougherty County Tax Director Denver Hooten calls a "Wow!" number, a number that can't be ignored.

Asked what the tax payment would have been on the more than $700 million in tax-exempt properties in the county during the previous tax cycle, Hooten offered a staggering answer: $28 million.

That's $28 million that had to be made up by owners of non-tax-exempt properties.

"You have to understand, that number (for tax-exempt properties) is real estate only," Hooten said. "It doesn't include the furniture inside the buildings or anything else. In most cases, it's also an old number that doesn't reflect improvements made on structures on the property.

"If you bring all that into it, that number would be a whole lot higher."

Not that the number isn't high enough already. The $700,140,189 in tax-exempt properties in Dougherty County represents 24 percent of the county's gross digest (with tax-exempt properties included). Three other Georgia counties -- Fulton with $6,159,266,570, Gwinnett with $1,862,032,940 and Chatham with $1,669,232,868 -- have higher dollar values in tax-exempt properties, but those counties' percentages of their gross digest don't come close to Dougherty's.

Fulton County's total is 10 percent of its digest, Gwinnett's 6 percent and Chatham's 11 percent.

By comparison, Muscogee County's tax-exempt property makes up 11 percent of its gross digest, Bibb County's 9 percent, Lowndes County's 8 percent, Henry County's 5 percent and Cobb County's only 2 percent.

"I'm not surprised or alarmed at those numbers," Hooten said. "It's how the process works. In the state of Georgia, we're all in the same boat. It's the nature of the beast."

Still, the county's tax director said, taxpaying citizens have a right to be concerned.

"The tax burden is not going to change," she said. "It is what it is. What does change is the burden is shifted to the taxpayers whose property is not exempt."

The largest number of exempt properties in Dougherty County in Fiscal Year 2012, discounting $354,098,597 in "other" type properties that Hooten said did not fit neatly into established categories (such as those owned by the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority and the county's Payroll Development Authority), were public properties ($256,093,616) and charity hospitals ($56,392,224).

Other categories included religious worship ($19,284,804), educational ($7,735,104), charitable ($7,414,342), nonprofit home for the aged ($2,251,396) and religious burial ($379,120).

Albany city officials are expected to ask Hooten and the county's Tax Assessor Board to reassess tax-exempt properties located within the city limits to determine whether all those properties meet the state requirements of such status.

City Manager James Taylor noted that both tax-exempt and non-exempt properties receieve the same services from the city.

"We think (tax-exempt status) ought to be aggressively challenged," Taylor said. "The organizations that own these properties get the same benefits as everyone else, but they pay nothing for those benefits. The rest of the property owners are carrying the load, and the fewer the number of units there are being taxed, the larger the share of the burden.

"We still have to provide services -- fire, police protection, stormwater, sewer -- to all the tax-exempt properties."

Taylor noted that an analysis of hotels and motels in the city offered some revealing information.

"We did an analysis of about a third of the hotels/motels in the city, and we found a sizeable amount of money we were losing because people weren't doing the records right," the city manager said. "Some people honestly didn't know, but there were some who did. That's why we need to keep a lookout on things like this; the less we follow up, the more likely they are to cut corners."

City Finance Director Kris Newton said the city plans, at the county's suggestion, to formally request a review of tax-exempt properties by the Tax Assessor Board.

"Denver and her staff do a tremendous job," Newton said. "But, like everybody else, they're understaffed. We're hoping to have an opportunity to verify the (tax-exempt) status of properties in the city. If they're following state rules, we'll shut up.

"But, for example, it doesn't make sense to assume that a private business that is paying taxes one day and gets bought out by a tax-exempt organization the next then is granted tax-exempt status overnight."

Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard said county officials hold the same expectations of all property owners.

"We do not assume, just because a property is determined to have tax-exempt status, that anyone is trying to avoid paying their fair share," Sinyard said. "We expect every citizen and every organization to pay their taxes according to the law. Any who don't meet those expectations will be made to do so."

There's little, Hooten notes, that government agencies or individuals can do to address the high total of tax-exempt properties in the county other than make sure all laws are being followed. After all, she points out, owners of taxable property in the county received $189,478,899 in allowable exemptions (homestead, freeport, conservation, etc.) in FY 2012.

"Any county that has, as we have, large institutions such as the hospital authority, colleges, a military base, a large school system and government buildings like the one we're sitting in, is going to have a significant amount of rightfully exempted property," she said. "We have no choice: If property is legitimately exempt, we cannot tax it.

"There's only one way to change things, and that's through the Legislature."

Comments

tocar 2 years, 1 month ago

I think these properties need to be reaccessed. The numbers are too high for Dougherty County and it appears as though some are using the system.

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FryarTuk 2 years, 1 month ago

Exempt the hospitals only. Tax office buildings, recreational facility and all others. Only exempt the hospital building.

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reb_arty1863 2 years, 1 month ago

I bet they will not tax phoebe putney's millions upon millions in property. I am not talking about the hospital location alone. They are one of the largest holders of real estate in dougherty county. They have removed millions of dollars of property from the tax rolls. If they think they might need a piece of property 50 years from now, they purchase it and remove it from the tax base.

Another issue....Churces that espouse political choices from the pulpits are forbidden to do so by a lot of the IRS regulations for charitable non-profits. Those that are caught doing so should lose their tax exempt status and there are policies on the books already allowing that process to occurr. No legislature motions are necessary for this to happen. If they lose the tax exempt status then that property is taxable. I bet it will go unpunished as it has for decades though.

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waltspecht 2 years, 1 month ago

Set up a schedule and review each property at least once every five years. This will assure some enforcement of compliance. I know people feel you cannot tax a charity. However, this tax exempt status means others have to support the charity whether they agree with it and it's goals or not. About like using tax money to fund projects we totally disagree with. Some of these art projects, and roads and runways to no where make you wonder.

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dingleberry 2 years, 1 month ago

Exemptions are set up by GA law. How the exemption criteria is applied is up to the Board of Tax Assessors. Church sanctuaries are specifically exempt. Beyond that, the Board has discretion it likely does not use. For example, Mt Zion has 110 acres of land housing its santuary on Westover. Why not exempt the sanctuary and 10 acres rather than 110? Also, mega hurches like Sherwood have a virtual city on their lands including gyms etc. But expect a wailing and gnashing of teeth.if even a penny is attempted to be extractd from their coffers.

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Sister_Ruby 2 years, 1 month ago

"Sherwood Pictures Ministries" is also a 501.c.3 and thus all their millions of income from movie, book, and sundry materials sakes are tax exempt.

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FryarTuk 2 years ago

Tax them! Tax First Methodist for the private for profit catering and party service run out of the church. They park a big truck in the parking lot that advertises the catering business. Tax Porterfield's kitchen equipment and kitchen space. There is a for profit catering business rung there as well. The Christian laundry service on Stuart, tax it! Any facility owned by PPMH that does not have a hospital in it! TAX IT! They can and absolutely should. Do not rely on Spencer Lee for your advice, Hooten! GEt a lawyer trained in tax matters who doesn't rely on PPMH for a big part of their $. Someone really should file a lawsuit agains the Tax Commissioner and Tax ASS. Board for violation of equal protection clause.

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whattheheck 2 years ago

Good news, Fryar. The Fluff and Fold on Stuart is taxed at a value of $476,000. And contrary to popular belief. some of Phoebe's "future" land holdings are in fact taxed. The problem I see with Phoebe is perhaps there should be other holdings taxed--Phoebe identifies the properties and amounts it chooses, not what the Tax Assessor identifies. Who ponies up for more tax?

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FryarTuk 2 years ago

Thanks for the Fluff and Fold news. It didn't start out that way. I am not interested in the future land holdings of PPMH, I am concerned in their current office buildings which have nothing to do with the actualy work of the hospital mission of patient care. Their real estate land holdings are far flung and incongruous to the community hospital facility's charitable purpose. They are money makers (not the pecan type though).

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bigbob 2 years, 1 month ago

28% tax exempt, 75% on welfare, foodstamps,etc. Add this to what is stolen by DCSS & Albany other agencys you can see why DOCO is in freefall.

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chinaberry25 2 years, 1 month ago

It is going to get a lot worse. Tax all of Phoebes doctors offices and womens center. Only allow the monies to be for patient care while they are in the hospital. And why are private schools exempt. Most are for profit and especially Sherwoods movies. Seems like they make a lot of money in Albany and very little is given back. I would also make the welfare people pay something, if not but $5 per month. They need to cut down on fingernails anyway. I have heard that food stamp monies on food are not taxed by sales tax. Is this true? With the abuse on food stamps they should be taxed just as any other person. On the kids. Let them cut down on one kid or reduce those high starch meals or make tea instead of buying it by the bottle. Back to Phoebe. They should not be allowed to be tax free and have this money in offshore accounts. This money should be in America or they lose tax exempt status.

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SMHgain 2 years ago

I have also heard that food stamp purchases are not subject to sales tax.

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whattheheck 2 years, 1 month ago

"Any county that has, as we have, large institutions such as the hospital authority, colleges, a military base, a large school system and government buildings like the one we're sitting in, is going to have a significant amount of rightfully exempted property," she said. "We have no choice: If property is legitimately exempt, we cannot tax it."

Well, it seems to me Lowndes has the identical situation and their exemptions are $254 million. Throw in their greater taxable digest at $3.1 billion vice our $2.2 billion and bingo, they have a winner. A lower millage rate than generates more money and a county that grows.

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FlunkyMonkey 2 years ago

Re-assess Phoebe. Hell, they own 90 percent of the tax exempt property.

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dingleberry 2 years ago

Flunky, although Phoebe owns a lot of exempt property, local governments and their authorities, own by far the most exempt property. There are 4,000 parcels of exempt property and Phoebe/Hospital Authority probably account for no more than 200. Parcels identified as "public property", basically government, account for half the total parcels and over 40% of the recorded values. Places of religious worship account for over 800, the second largest parcel category but only about $18 million in value.

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RedEric 2 years ago

Yes, Phoebe owns a lot of buildings that are not being used. More will be emptied when the new building is filled. They should pay some tax for city services on all of the buildings. But wait, they will be taxed under Obamacare. As for the 'Churches' I am honestly surprised the ACLU is not involved with this nationwide. Talk about separation of church and state. How did this partnership ever get started in the first place? Lets face it folks Sherwood is a business. A very successful business. Why should Athiests pay for their city services?

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FlunkyMonkey 2 years ago

Let's not just limit it to Sherwood. Look at Byne or Second Mount Olive or Apostle Revells organization or any of the other "megachurches" in Albany. How did they get so big? As far as the comment about athiests, why should my child be deprived the right to pray in school because of the objections of athiests? Christians have rights, too (even though they are slowly be eroded). This is meant as a rhetorical statement and NOT to start a Separation of Church and State argument.

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billybob 2 years ago

Your child has a right to pray in school. No question about it. What your child does not have the right to do, however, is insist that other students participate in his prayer. I keep hearing that Christians are under attack around here. Yet there is church on almost every corner. The television is full of religious programming. As the article stated, there is tens of millions of dollars of non-taxed church property in this county. Not to mention a church producing movies making money hand over fist, yet somehow Christians are under attack? Nonsense.

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FlunkyMonkey 2 years ago

WHAT PART OF "THIS IS MEANT AS A RHETORICAL STATEMENT AND NOT INTENDED TO START A SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE ARGUMENT" DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND???? GOT IT? "THIS IS MEANT AS A RHETORICAL STATEMENT AND NOT INTENDED TO START A SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE ARGUMENT"

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Jax 2 years ago

If you don't want someone to comment on your statement, then don't say it. What an idiot! I think Obama is the best president ever. No comments on that, please!

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billybob 2 years ago

Except that is wasn't a rhetorical statement. You stating that it is does not make it so.

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FlunkyMonkey 2 years ago

Will honor your request Jax....But since you did not state with specificity what part of your post was rhetorical I will make this comment: As far as being an idiot ---You have to be one to recognize one. You know, birds of a feather flock together. However, if your idiot comment is meant as the rhetorical statement, I humbly ask your forgiveness for misunderstanding what was rhetorical and hereby retract my statements contained in this post. Have a beautiful, love-filled day.

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billybob 2 years ago

Wow. You're not even that good at sarcasm.

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FlunkyMonkey 2 years ago

That wasn't meant as sarcasm. But I don't have to be good at anything. As previously stated, I'm an idiot, remember? I hope you have a beautiful, love-filled day, too, Billybob.

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billybob 2 years ago

Ok. Now I'm confused. Was that supposed to be more unfunny sarcasm?

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FlunkyMonkey 2 years ago

I am sorry--but I don't know what sarcasm is. I am an idiot and a product of the Dougherty County School System. Please explain it to me.

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Jax 2 years ago

I'm sorry for the idiot comment. Sometimes I'm grumpy when I wake up. Seriously, though, you can't make a comment and not expect anyone to respond to it just because you tell them not to. You brought your opinion to a public forum; your have to live with it when someone disputes it.

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FlunkyMonkey 2 years ago

Thank you--I too am grumpy when I wake up. I am still waiting for Billybob to explain sarcasm to me since I really don't know what he means.

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billybob 2 years ago

I think you're just being deliberately obtuse. But if you really need help understanding sarcasm at your age, it's too late for you to get it. It saddens me to think of all of the witty and cutting remarks that went over your head.

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FlunkyMonkey 2 years ago

I wanted you to explain sarcasm to me since you appear to be an expert on it. As far as being obtuse, I was called an idiot this morning (although an apology was forthcoming this afternoon).  As far as my age goes, how old do you think I am?
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tocar 2 years ago

Reaccess all of these properties beginning as soon as possible. Many properties are deliberately misused and classified as excempt.

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FlunkyMonkey 2 years ago

I really agree with you--misuse and miisrepresentation of tax exempt organizations is rampant in DoCo.

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ilovealbany 2 years ago

I think everyone is missing the BIG PICTURE on this one...how about less taxes and LESS GOVERNMENT! The "hospital authority" is tax-free in part because it is part of the Government (or at least hides behind its cloak)! What we really need are responsible Government employees that don't spend the money like it's free (and less of them)! I do agree that a lrage portion of these entities should be on the tax roll, but I also think the millage rate and all taxes are extremely too high due to inefficiency.

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MRKIA 2 years ago

I'VE SEEN THIS POLITICAL AD ON TV WITH CANDIDATE JOHN BARROW PROVIDING VARIOUS EXAMPLES OF WASTE BY OUR GOVERNMENT; 700,000 GOV VEHICLES, 30MIL FOR PAKISTANI MANGO FARMERS, A "LOBSTER INSTITUTE"? ALL OF WHICH HE VOTED AGAINST AND I'M POSITIVE EVERYONE KNOWS THIS IS THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG. I'D RATHER BUILD NEW HOMES AND GIVE THEM AWAY TO ELIGIBLE CITIZENS THAN SEND 30MILLION TO PAKISTAN. THIS IS JUST ONE EXAMPLE. HOW MANY 100K HOMES FOR THE CITIZENS? 300. HOW MANY MANGOS HAVE I SEEN FROM PAKISTAN? NARY A ONE.

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Trustbuster 1 year, 1 month ago

This means that almost 1/4 of this county pays no property taxes at all. Over the years the burden has shifted more and more to homeowners like myself. There are plenty of tax exemptions built in for nonprofits and other organizations such as churches. Also don't forgot government property. We need to find a new way to spread the burden more equally since those who receive services hardly pay any taxes at all. I suggest we start with the elimination of income taxes that contain 1000s of loopholes gained through lobbying by special interests.

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