A bill that could cost Morgan County over $1 million annually in state revenues made it through the Georgia Legislature’s competitive Crossover Day last week, clearing yet another obstacle on its way to becoming law.
House Bill 85—a bill that could potentially cost the county and school board a collective $1.5 million in annual state revenues— proposes changes to the Forest Land Protection Act of 2008 (FLPA) by revising the ad valorem taxes on qualifying properties and the methodology used to establish forestland fair market value.
According to county officials, if the Georgia Senate approves these changes, the county could lose state reimbursements for properties in the FLPA program. County Manager Adam Mestres lamented the possibility during the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) regular meeting on March 6.
“We are currently the number one recipient of this program in the state of Georgia,” said Mestres. “We stand the most to lose if this passes the Georgia Senate.”
In 2016, the county and the school system received $1.7 million collectively in reimbursements from FLPA. The State of Georgia provides these reimbursements to counties with participating properties. The program allows timber companies to place their lands in 15-year covenants, agreeing to forgo development of the land in exchange for a significant reduction in property taxes.
The state then reimburses Georgia counties to compensate for the loss in tax revenues from participating timber companies.
Reimbursements are calculated based on the number of properties a county has in the program and the fair market value of those properties. Morgan County currently has 27,000 acres covered by the FLPA program.
Mestres, along with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), have been actively opposing this bill due to the “significant impact” it would yield for counties across the state.
“This will impact Morgan County more than any other county in the state,” said Mestres. “Now it has made more progress to becoming law.”
However, the proposed changes would require a state constitutional amendment, which means voters across the state will have the opportunity to vote on it in 2019.
“There are some powerful people who want to change this, but we want to get the message out to voters about this and hope they vote it down,” said Mestres.