For many years, I have heard of Board of Equalization hearings (often referred to as BOE hearings). I understood conceptually what they did but it was esoteric and a mystery for me what really happens at these hearings.
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to find out for myself once and for all what really happens in a BOE Hearing. Admittedly, I especially wanted to find out because that particular year, I filed 68 tax appeals for myself and my business friends. With so many tax appeals I had in hand, there seemed to be a highly likelihood that I would have to attend a few BOE hearings to fight for valuations we felt strongly about. It isn’t something I really wanted but I was prepared to do so, if necessary.
I called the BOE Office within our Superior Court and told the clerk my situation. I explained that I wanted to watch and learn what happens at BOE hearings and see how it all worked. I asked her if I could attend a few hearings. She told me that BOE hearings were open to the public and citizens were allowed to sit in and quietly observe. However, space and seating were limited. Also, we would not be allowed to record the session because frequently, private and sensitive financial matters were discussed in the room.
As a courtesy, I gave her my name and she proposed dates and times to attend that might be best for me. She told me to come see her and she would find me a seat to sit and observe. True to her word, when I arrived, she found me a seat in a tight corner. After I was seated, the BOE members were very accommodating. Everyone got situated before allowing property owners to come in.
I share this story because if you really want to observe a BOE hearing first-hand, you should be able to do it. You simply have to call the BOE Office and ask. They might be surprised at the request but they should be able to accommodate you.
What happens in a BOE hearing is very routine and repetitive from the perspective of the tax assessors, BOE members, and BOE clerk’s perspective. They attend week after week during BOE hearing season. However, it is definitely anything but routine if you have NEVER attended a BOE hearing.
Keep in mind, there are 159 counties in Georgia, with their own tax assessor offices, BOE clerks, and BOE members. Each county has different staff, buildings, and room facilities. That means there is very likely that there will be differences in how BOE hearings operate from one county to another.
BOE hearings are conducted daily for weeks, and sometimes months, until they are completed. Depending on the county and the number of outstanding appeals, BOE hearings can be scheduled until the end of the calendar and sometimes even into the following year. I know this because too many times I have had scheduled BOE hearings in November and December!
Based on my own experiences and what I have been told, most BOE hearings are generally civil, respectful, and cordial. Certainly, there are property owners who may be more outwardly passionate or disagreeable in their behavior. I have heard a few stories where property owners might become quite angry or unruly. But generally, these are not high-drama as you might think especially if property owners come prepared.
Based on the few hearings I have attended, BOE hearings tend to have more of a roundtable feel than a court feel. Remember, BOE members are citizen volunteers, not lawyers or judges. BOE hearings are less formal in tone and language than most people realize.
When a BOE hearing commences, the BOE clerk and BOE members make disclosures and recite language that informs taxpayers of their rights and what will occur during the hearing. After the short recitations have concluded, the property owner is asked if they would like to present first or not. Based on my experiences, when asked, most property owners seemed willing to present their evidence first. Then the other party, the tax assessor, presents their evidence.
After both sides present their evidence, BOE members ask questions of both sides and have back-and-forth dialog with both the tax assessor and the property owner. In the BOE hearings I attended where the property owner was prepared with sales comparables, photos, exhibits, and good explanations, deference and consideration are given to the property owners by the tax assessor.
However, unless the tax assessor office information is substantially different from the property owner information, there is almost always a quick negotiation at the table prior to the ruling. An adjusted value is either offered to the property owner or the tax assessor will accept the property owner’s stated value. If there is mutual agreement during this dialog exchange, the BOE members confer among themselves and the ruling is made quickly.
However, if there is still substantial disagreement, BOE members are then compelled to make a decision based on what they heard from both sides. I won’t even speculate how BOE members will rule but they will make a ruling at the conclusion of the hearing. The tax assessors office and the property owner can either accept the BOE ruling or either can appeal further to Superior Court.
I would like to point out that, at minimum, even if there is no change of value for the the property owner, they can be assured their property taxes will be “frozen” for the next three tax years by simply showing up and attending. That is why I encourage people to file tax appeals. There is little to lose. The worst that can happen is that the value of property is “frozen” for three years.