According to numbers provided by Pickens County’s Chief Tax Appraiser, over one fifth of all land in Pickens is under a conservation valuation, a state program that gives property owners a tax break in exchange for an agreement to limit land usage to agricultural/forestry production for 10 years.
Chief appraiser Roy Dobbs said for the 2015 year his office has approved 48 applications for Conservation Use Valuation Assesment (CUVA). Of those, 29 were renewals.
CUVA applications are accepted each year between January 2 and April 1.
The 2014 consolidated digest showed 21.5 percent, or 31,866 of Pickens’ 148,480 total acres, as being enrolled in the CUVA program. This number does not include new properties approved for CUVA in 2015. Year-over-year, Dobbs said the amount of property enrolled in the program “is fairly stable. There hasn’t been much of a change.”
Property owners who qualify for the conservation assessment have their land valued according to its current usage as an agricultural/forestry property rather than at Fair Market Value. The difference between FMV and the CUVA value becomes an annual exemption, with the tax savings calculated from the amount of the exemption - but the CUVA valuation process is complex and takes into account use, location, selling price of land and soil productivity.
“This is a program for your family farmers,” said Dobbs. “The savings depends, and it can get confusing about how to calculate it. If you have a larger piece of property you’d likely have more savings whereas on a smaller piece you’d likely have less.”
Appraisers from the Georgia Property Tax Division determine values of conservation use based on information from state agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources, according to information provided by the local assessor’s office.
Under Georgia law O.C.G.A. Section 48-5-7.4 an individual land owner can have up to 2,000 acres in the conservation assessment program. At least 50 percent of the property must be devoted to farming and agricultural production, among other qualifications. “Environmentally sensitive” property such as ridge tops, habitats of endangered species, etc. may also qualify.
Dobbs said his office monitors CUVA properties in Pickens to ensure landowners do not breach their contract.
“But sometimes we have people who want to remove their property from the conservation assessment because they want to sell it or use it for other purposes,” Dobbs said. “They can do this at anytime. We also have people who qualify but who are not interested in the program.”
But removing property from CUVA before the 10 year mark could cost a pretty penny, depending on savings up to that point. The penalty for a breach is two times the total tax savings a property owner has enjoyed during the entire length of the contract, plus interest.
To learn more about CUVA visit the Pickens County Assessors Office website at www.qpublic.net/ga/pickens. On the homepage click on “Exemptions” and then on “Specialized and Preferential Assesment Programs.”
FAQs and policies can also be picked up in hard copy at the assessors office, located at the Pickens County Administration Building at 1266 East Church Street, Jasper Ga. 30143.