bang for buck

Pierce in Top Ten for overall value in SmartAsset report

The nation may be struggling to find common ground following the outcome of our presidential election and disagreements over the COVID-19 pandemic, but Pierce County is still one of the best places to live in Georgia and the United States.

That’s according to SmartAsset’s recently released interactive map highlighting counties across the country where property tax dollars are being spent most effectively.

Pierce County is ranked fourth in the state and 317th in the nation for best overall value, according to the study by the New York based financial technology company.

Pierce County School System, which consistently ranks high in state and national studies, placed third in the state and 210th in the nation. The school system’s high ranking is most likely why Pierce County placed in the Top Ten for best overall value in the SmartAsset report.

“The Pierce County School System truly believes excellence is the standard. We have some of the finest educators in the state working at our schools,” said School Superintendent Dara Bennett. “Our leaders at the school and district levels are very committed to maximizing the resources we have to support student learning. The Board of Education members do a great job of supporting our schools and the work we do to educate the children of our community.”

The county’s stellar school system is also an effective promotional tool for area economic developers.

“Our school system is the leading reason for attracting people to the community which helps to attract business and industry,” says Matt Carter, Pierce County Industrial Development Authority Executive Director.

“We have by far one of the best school systems in the nation,” agrees County Manager Jason Rubenbauer.

The county also ranked eighth in Georgia (338th in the nation) for home value growth and 46 in the state (1,262 in nation) for lowest average property tax. (There are 159 counties in Georgia.)

“The housing market is doing great for Pierce County. That’s pretty much nationwide except for the construction industry,” says Jonathan Coleman, broker and realtor® with Compass360.

Coleman noted, however, because Pierce County is comparatively small, one home value report can significantly affect the county’s ranking.

Rubenbauer was pleased with Pierce County’s property tax rating in the study, but noted the recruitment of larger industries to the area would help shift the county tax burden away from property owners, and probably result in a higher ranking.

“Yes, we are very efficient with the amount of money that we collect, (but) we don’t get near as much as a lot of those (counties) around us,” Rubenbauer says.

The county manager pointed to neighboring Appling County which is similar in size and population to Pierce, but accrues substantial tax revenue from Plant Hatch.

“Appling has Plant Hatch which is a huge economic driver for them, and they get a lot of taxes out of Plant Hatch. So they’re budget is a lot larger than ours,” he says.

The SmartAsset study found property taxes are relatively low across the state, compared to the national average. The median real estate tax payment in Georgia is $1,448 per year, about $650 less than the national average, and the average effective property tax rate in Georgia is 0.91 percent.

The amount of property taxes you pay in Georgia depends on the assessed value of your home, which is based on (but not equal to) your home’s market value. To determine assessed value, county tax assessors appraise every home in order to calculate the market value of each piece of real estate.

Once market value is determined, assessors apply the Georgia assessment ratio  — 40 percent in nearly every county and city in the state. That means that if your home’s market value is $100,000, the assessed value is $40,000.

There are also a number of property tax exemptions in Georgia that can reduce your home’s assessed value and, therefore, your taxes, but those vary by county. The statewide exemption is $2,000, but it applies only to the statewide property tax.

In Pierce County, all homeowners can apply for a homestead exemption. Senior citizens (at ages 62 and 65) are eligible to apply for a reduction of their school taxes based on their income and disabled veterans can receive a total exemption from county taxes.

Exemptions must be applied for between January and April each year.

Property tax rates in Georgia are described in mills, which are equal to $1 of taxes for every $1,000 in assessed value. Pierce County’s gross tax millage for 2020 is 16 mills.

SmartAsset’s Methodology

The study ranks counties by property taxes paid, school rankings and changes in property values over a five-year period. SmartAsset uses the number of households, median home value and average property tax rate to calculate a per capita property tax collected for each county.

As a way to measure the quality of schools, the research group analyzes math and reading/language arts proficiencies for every school district in the country and creates an average score for each district by looking at the scores for every school in that district, weighting it to account for the number of students in each school. Within each state, SmartAsset assigns every county a score between 1 and 10 (with 10 being the best) based on the average scores of the districts in each county. Pierce County Schools is ranked a 10.

The study also calculates the change in property tax value in each county over a five-year period. According to SmartAsset’s research, places where property values rose by the greatest amount indicate where consumers were motivated to buy homes, and a positive return on investment for homeowners in the community.