Georgia Code - Revenue and Taxation - Title 48, Section 48-5-7.4
(a) For purposes of this article, the term 'bona fide conservation use property' means property described in and meeting the requirements of paragraph (1) or (2) of this subsection, as follows:
(1) Not more than 2,000 acres of tangible real property of a single owner, the primary purpose of which is any good faith production, including but not limited to subsistence farming or commercial production, from or on the land of agricultural products or timber, subject to the following qualifications:
(A) Such property includes the value of tangible property permanently affixed to the real property which is directly connected to such owneŕs production of agricultural products or timber and which is devoted to the storage and processing of such agricultural products or timber from or on such real property;
(B) Such property excludes the entire value of any residence located on the property;
(C) Except as otherwise provided in division (vii) of this subparagraph, such property must be owned by:
(i) One or more natural or naturalized citizens;
(ii) An estate of which the devisees or heirs are one or more natural or naturalized citizens;
(iii) A trust of which the beneficiaries are one or more natural or naturalized citizens;
(iv) A family owned farm entity, such as a family corporation, a family partnership, a family general partnership, a family limited partnership, a family limited corporation, or a family limited liability company, all of the interest of which is owned by one or more natural or naturalized citizens related to each other by blood or marriage within the fourth degree of civil reckoning, except that, solely with respect to a family limited partnership, a corporation, limited partnership, limited corporation, or limited liability company may serve as a general partner of the family limited partnership and hold no more than a 5 percent interest in such family limited partnership, an estate of which the devisees or heirs are one or more natural or naturalized citizens, or a trust of which the beneficiaries are one or more natural or naturalized citizens and which family owned farm entity derived 80 percent or more of its gross income from bona fide conservation uses, including earnings on investments directly related to past or future bona fide conservation uses, within this state within the year immediately preceding the year in which eligibility is sought; provided, however, that in the case of a newly formed family farm entity, an estimate of the income of such entity may be used to determine its eligibility;
(v) A bona fide nonprofit conservation organization designated under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code;
(vi) A bona fide club organized for pleasure, recreation, and other nonprofitable purposes pursuant to Section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code; or
(vii) In the case of constructed storm-water wetlands, any person may own such property;
(D) Factors which may be considered in determining if such property is qualified may include, but not be limited to:
(i) The nature of the terrain;
(ii) The density of the marketable product on the land;
(iii) The past usage of the land;
(iv) The economic merchantability of the agricultural product; and
(v) The utilization or nonutilization of recognized care, cultivation, harvesting, and like practices applicable to the product involved and any implemented plans thereof; and
(E) Such property shall, if otherwise qualified, include, but not be limited to, property used for:
(i) Raising, harvesting, or storing crops;
(ii) Feeding, breeding, or managing livestock or poultry;
(iii) Producing plants, trees, fowl, or animals, including without limitation the production of fish or wildlife by maintaining not less than ten acres of wildlife habitat either in its natural state or under management, which shall be deemed a type of agriculture; provided, however, that no form of commercial fishing or fish production shall be considered a type of agriculture; or
(iv) Production of aquaculture, horticulture, floriculture, forestry, dairy, livestock, poultry, and apiarian products; or
(2) Not more than 2,000 acres of tangible real property, excluding the value of any improvements thereon, of a single owner of the types of environmentally sensitive property specified in this paragraph and certified as such by the Department of Natural Resources, if the primary use of such property is its maintenance in its natural condition or controlling or abating pollution of surface or ground waters of this state by storm-water runoff or otherwise enhancing the water quality of surface or ground waters of this state and if such owner meets the qualifications of subparagraph (C) of paragraph (1) of this subsection:
(A) Environmentally sensitive areas, including any otherwise qualified land area 1,000 feet or more above the lowest elevation of the county in which such area is located that has a percentage slope, which is the difference in elevation between two points 500 feet apart on the earth divided by the horizontal distance between those two points, of 25 percent or greater and shall include the crests, summits, and ridge tops which lie at elevations higher than any such area;
(B) Wetland areas that are determined by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to be wetlands under their jurisdiction pursuant to Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, as amended, or wetland areas that are depicted or delineated on maps compiled by the Department of Natural Resources or the United States Fish and Wildlife Service pursuant to its National Wetlands Inventory Program;
(C) Significant ground-water recharge areas as identified on maps or data compiled by the Department of Natural Resources;
(D) Undeveloped barrier islands or portions thereof as provided for in the federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act, as amended;
(E) Habitats as certified by the Department of Natural Resources as containing species that have been listed as either endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended;
(F) River or stream corridors or buffers which shall be defined as those undeveloped lands which are:
(i) Adjacent to rivers and perennial streams that are within the 100 year flood plain as depicted on official maps prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency; or
(ii) Within buffer zones adjacent to rivers or perennial streams, which buffer zones are established by law or local ordinance and within which land-disturbing activity is prohibited; or
(G)(i) Constructed storm-water wetlands of the free-water surface type certified by the Department of Natural Resources under subsection (k) of Code Section 12-2-4 and approved for such use by the local governing authority.
(ii) No property shall maintain its eligibility for current use assessment as a bona fide conservation use property as defined in this subparagraph unless the owner of such property files an annual inspection report from a licensed professional engineer certifying that as of the date of such report the property is being maintained in a proper state of repair so as to accomplish the objectives for which it was designed. Such inspection report and certification shall be filed with the county board of tax assessors on or before the last day for filing ad valorem tax returns in the county for each tax year for which such assessment is sought.
(a.1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Code section to the contrary, in the case of property which otherwise meets the requirements for current use assessment and the qualifying use is pursuant to division (1)(E)(iii) of subsection (a) of this Code section, when the owner seeks to renew the covenant or reenter a covenant subsequent to the termination of a previous covenant which met such requirements and the owner meets the qualifications under this Code section but the property is no longer being used for the qualified use for which the previous covenant was entered pursuant to division (1)(E)(iii) of subsection (a) of this Code section, the property is not environmentally sensitive property within the meaning of paragraph (2) of subsection (a) of this Code section, and the primary use of the property is maintenance of a wildlife habitat of not less than ten acres either by maintaining the property in its natural condition or under management, the county board of tax assessors shall be required to accept such use as a qualifying use for purposes of this Code section.
(b) Except in the case of the underlying portion of a tract of real property on which is actually located a constructed storm-water wetlands, the following additional rules shall apply to the qualification of conservation use property for current use assessment:
(1) When one-half or more of the area of a single tract of real property is used for a qualifying purpose, then such tract shall be considered as used for such qualifying purpose unless some other type of business is being operated on the unused portion; provided, however, that such unused portion must be minimally managed so that it does not contribute significantly to erosion or other environmental or conservation problems. The lease of hunting rights or the use of the property for hunting purposes shall not constitute another type of business. The charging of admission for use of the property for fishing purposes shall not constitute another type of business;
(2) The owner of a tract, lot, or parcel of land totaling less than ten acres shall be required by the tax assessor to submit additional relevant records regarding proof of bona fide conservation use;
(3) No property shall qualify as bona fide conservation use property if such current use assessment would result in any person who has a beneficial interest in such property, including any interest in the nature of stock ownership, receiving in any tax year any benefit of current use assessment as to more than 2,000 acres. If any taxpayer has any beneficial interest in more than 2,000 acres of tangible real property which is devoted to bona fide conservation uses, such taxpayer shall apply for current use assessment only as to 2,000 acres of such land;
(4) No property shall qualify as bona fide conservation use property if it is leased to a person or entity which would not be entitled to conservation use assessment;
(5) No property shall qualify as bona fide conservation use property if such property is at the time of application for current use assessment subject to a restrictive covenant which prohibits the use of the property for any purpose described in subparagraph (a)(1)(E) of this Code section; and
(6) No otherwise qualified property shall be denied current use assessment on the grounds that no soil map is available for the county in which such property is located; provided, however, that if no soil map is available for the county in which such property is located, the owner making an application for current use assessment shall provide the board of tax assessors with a certified soil survey of the subject property unless another method for determining the soil type of the subject property is authorized in writing by such board.
(c) For purposes of this article, the term 'bona fide residential transitional property' means not more than five acres of tangible real property of a single owner which is private single-family residential owner occupied property located in a transitional developing area. Such classification shall apply to all otherwise qualified real property which is located in an area which is undergoing a change in use from single-family residential use to agricultural, commercial, industrial, office-institutional, multifamily, or utility use or a combination of such uses. Change in use may be evidenced by recent zoning changes, purchase by a developer, affidavits of intent, or close proximity to property which has undergone a change from single-family residential use. To qualify as residential transitional property, the valuation must reflect a change in value attributable to such propertýs proximity to or location in a transitional area.
(d) No property shall qualify for current use assessment under this Code section unless and until the owner of such property agrees by covenant with the appropriate taxing authority to maintain the eligible property in bona fide qualifying use for a period of ten years beginning on the first day of January of the year in which such property qualifies for such current use assessment and ending on the last day of December of the final year of the covenant period. After the owner has applied for and has been allowed current use assessment provided for in this Code section, it shall not be necessary to make application thereafter for any year in which the covenant period is in effect and current use assessment shall continue to be allowed such owner as specified in this Code section. At least 60 days prior to the expiration date of the covenant, the county board of tax assessors shall send by first-class mail written notification of such impending expiration. Upon the expiration of any covenant period, the property shall not qualify for further current use assessment under this Code section unless and until the owner of the property has entered into a renewal covenant for an additional period of ten years; provided, however, that the owner may enter into a renewal contract in the ninth year of a covenant period so that the contract is continued without a lapse for an additional ten years.
(e) A single owner shall be authorized to enter into more than one covenant under this Code section for bona fide conservation use property, provided that the aggregate number of acres of qualified property of such owner to be entered into such covenants does not exceed 2,000 acres. Any such qualified property may include a tract or tracts of land which are located in more than one county. A single owner shall be authorized to enter qualified property in a covenant for bona fide conservation use purposes and to enter simultaneously the residence located on such property in a covenant for bona fide residential transitional use if the qualifications for each such covenant are met. A single owner shall be authorized to enter qualified property in a covenant for bona fide conservation use purposes and to enter other qualified property of such owner in a covenant for bona fide residential transitional use.
(f) An owner shall not be authorized to make application for and receive current use assessment under this Code section for any property which at the time of such application is receiving preferential assessment under Code Section 48-5-7.1 except that such owner shall be authorized to change such preferential assessment covenant in the manner provided for in subsection (s) of Code Section 48-5-7.1.
(g) Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, no property shall maintain its eligibility for current use assessment under this Code section unless a valid covenant remains in effect and unless the property is continuously devoted to an applicable bona fide qualifying use during the entire period of the covenant. An owner shall be authorized to change the type of bona fide qualifying conservation use of the property to another bona fide qualifying conservation use and the penalty imposed by subsection (l) of this Code section shall not apply, but such owner shall give notice of any such change in use to the board of tax assessors.
(h) If any breach of a covenant occurs, the existing covenant shall be terminated and all qualification requirements must be met again before the property shall be eligible for current use assessment under this Code section.
(i) If ownership of all or a part of the property is acquired during a covenant period by a person or entity qualified to enter into an original covenant, then the original covenant may be continued by such acquiring party for the remainder of the term, in which event no breach of the covenant shall be deemed to have occurred.
(j)(1) All applications for current use assessment under this Code section, including the covenant agreement required under this Code section, shall be filed on or before the last day for filing ad valorem tax returns in the county for the tax year for which such current use assessment is sought, except that in the case of property which is the subject of a reassessment by the board of tax assessors an application for current use assessment may be filed in conjunction with or in lieu of an appeal of the reassessment. An application for continuation of such current use assessment upon a change in ownership of all or a part of the qualified property shall be filed on or before the last date for filing tax returns in the year following the year in which the change in ownership occurred. Applications for current use assessment under this Code section shall be filed with the county board of tax assessors who shall approve or deny the application. If the application is approved on or after July 1, 1998, the county board of tax assessors shall file a copy of the approved application in the office of the clerk of the superior court in the county in which the eligible property is located. The clerk of the superior court shall file and index such application in the real property records maintained in the clerḱs office. Applications approved prior to July 1, 1998, shall be filed and indexed in like manner without payment of any fee. If the application is not so recorded in the real property records, a transferee of the property affected shall not be bound by the covenant or subject to any penalty for its breach. The fee of the clerk of the superior court for recording such applications approved on or after July 1, 1998, shall be paid by the owner of the eligible property with the application for preferential treatment and shall be paid to the clerk by the board of tax assessors when the application is filed with the clerk. If the application is denied, the board of tax assessors shall notify the applicant in the same manner that notices of assessment are given pursuant to Code Section 48-5-306 and shall return any filing fees advanced by the owner. Appeals from the denial of an application by the board of tax assessors shall be made in the same manner that other property tax appeals are made pursuant to Code Section 48-5-311.
(2) In the event such application is approved, the taxpayer shall continue to receive annual notification of any change in the fair market value of such property and any appeals with respect to such valuation shall be made in the same manner as other property tax appeals are made pursuant to Code Section 48-5-311.
(k)(1) The commissioner shall by regulation provide uniform application and covenant forms to be used in making application for current use assessment under this Code section. Such application shall include an oath or affirmation by the taxpayer that he or she is in compliance with the provisions of paragraphs (3) and (4) of subsection (b) of this Code section, if applicable.
(2) The applicable local governing authority shall accept applications for approval of property for purposes of subparagraph (a)(2)(G) of this Code section and shall certify property to the local board of tax assessors as meeting or not meeting the criteria of such paragraph. The local governing authority shall not certify any property as meeting the criteria of subparagraph (a)(2)(G) of this Code section unless:
(A) The owner has submitted to the local governing authority:
(i) A plat of the tract in question prepared by a licensed land surveyor, showing the location and measured area of such tract;
(ii) A certification by a licensed professional engineer that the specific design used for the constructed storm-water wetland was recommended by the engineer as suitable for such site after inspection and investigation; and
(iii) Information on the actual cost of constructing and estimated cost of operating the storm-water wetland, including without limitation a description of all incorporated materials, machinery, and equipment; and
(B) An authorized employee or agent of the local governing authority has inspected the site before, during, and after construction of the storm-water wetland to determine compliance with the requirements of subparagraph (a)(2)(G) of this Code section.
(l) A penalty shall be imposed under this subsection if during the period of the covenant entered into by a taxpayer the covenant is breached. The penalty shall be applicable to the entire tract which is the subject of the covenant and shall be twice the difference between the total amount of tax paid pursuant to current use assessment under this Code section and the total amount of taxes which would otherwise have been due under this chapter for each completed or partially completed year of the covenant period. Any such penalty shall bear interest at the rate specified in Code Section 48-2-40 from the date the covenant is breached.
(m) Penalties and interest imposed under this Code section shall constitute a lien against the property and shall be collected in the same manner as unpaid ad valorem taxes are collected. Such penalties and interest shall be distributed pro rata to each taxing jurisdiction wherein current use assessment under this Code section has been granted based upon the total amount by which such current use assessment has reduced taxes for each such taxing jurisdiction on the property in question as provided in this Code section.
(n) The penalty imposed by subsection (l) of this Code section shall not apply in any case where a covenant is breached solely as a result of:
(1) The acquisition of part or all of the property under the power of eminent domain;
(2) The sale of part or all of the property to a public or private entity which would have had the authority to acquire the property under the power of eminent domain; or
(3) The death of an owner who was a party to the covenant.
(o) The transfer of a part of the property subject to a covenant for a bona fide conservation use shall not constitute a breach of a covenant if:
(1) The part of the property so transferred is used for single-family residential purposes, starting within one year of the date of transfer and continuing for the remainder of the covenant period, and the residence is occupied by a person who is related within the fourth degree of civil reckoning to an owner of the property subject to the covenant; and
(2) The part of the property so transferred, taken together with any other part of the property so transferred to the same relative during the covenant period, does not exceed a total of five acres;
and in any such case the property so transferred shall not be eligible for a covenant for bona fide conservation use, but shall, if otherwise qualified, be eligible for current use assessment as residential transitional property and the remainder of the property from which such transfer was made shall continue under the existing covenant until a terminating breach occurs or until the end of the specified covenant period.
(p) The following shall not constitute a breach of a covenant:
(1) Mineral exploration of the property subject to the covenant or the leasing of the property subject to the covenant for purposes of mineral exploration if the primary use of the property continues to be the good faith production from or on the land of agricultural products;
(2) Allowing all or part of the property subject to the covenant to lie fallow or idle for purposes of any land conservation program, for purposes of any federal agricultural assistance program, or for other agricultural management purposes;
(3) Allowing all or part of the property subject to the covenant to lie fallow or idle due to economic or financial hardship if the owner notifies the board of tax assessors on or before the last day for filing a tax return in the county where the land lying fallow or idle is located and if such owner does not allow the land to lie fallow or idle for more than two years of any five-year period;
(4)(A) Any property which is subject to a covenant for bona fide conservation use being transferred to a place of religious worship or burial or an institution of purely public charity if such place or institution is qualified to receive the exemption from ad valorem taxation provided for under subsection (a) of Code Section 48-5-41. No person shall be entitled to transfer more than 25 acres of such persońs property in the aggregate under this paragraph.
(B) Any property transferred under subparagraph (A) of this paragraph shall not be used by the transferee for any purpose other than for a purpose which would entitle such property to the applicable exemption from ad valorem taxation provided for under subsection (a) of Code Section 48-5-41 or subsequently transferred until the expiration of the term of the covenant period. Any such use or transfer shall constitute a breach of the covenant;
(5) Leasing a portion of the property subject to the covenant, but in no event more than six acres, for the purpose of placing thereon a cellular telephone transmission tower. Any such portion of such property shall cease to be subject to the covenant as of the date of execution of such lease and shall be subject to ad valorem taxation at fair market value; or
(6) Allowing all or part of the property subject to the covenant on which a corn crop is grown to be used for the purpose of constructing and operating a maze so long as the remainder of such corn crop is harvested.
(q) In the following cases, the penalty specified by subsection (l) of this Code section shall not apply and the penalty imposed shall be the amount by which current use assessment has reduced taxes otherwise due for the year in which the covenant is breached, such penalty to bear interest at the rate specified in Code Section 48-2-40 from the date of the breach:
(1) Any case in which a covenant is breached solely as a result of the foreclosure of a deed to secure debt or the property is conveyed to the lienholder without compensation and in lieu of foreclosure, if:
(A) The deed to secure debt was executed as a part of a bona fide commercial loan transaction in which the grantor of the deed to secure debt received consideration equal in value to the principal amount of the debt secured by the deed to secure debt;
(B) The loan was made by a person or financial institution who or which is regularly engaged in the business of making loans; and
(C) The deed to secure debt was intended by the parties as security for the loan and was not intended for the purpose of carrying out a transfer which would otherwise be subject to the penalty specified by subsection (l) of this Code section;
(2) Any case in which a covenant is breached solely as a result of a medically demonstrable illness or disability which renders the owner of the real property physically unable to continue the property in the qualifying use, provided that the board of tax assessors shall require satisfactory evidence which clearly demonstrates that the breach is the result of a medically demonstrable illness or disability; or
(3) Any case in which a covenant is breached solely as a result of an owner electing to discontinue the property in its qualifying use, provided such owner has renewed without an intervening lapse at least once the covenant for bona fide conservation use, has reached the age of 65 or older, and has kept the property in a qualifying use under the renewal covenant for at least three years. Such election shall be in writing and shall not become effective until filed with the county board of tax assessors.
(r) Property which is subject to current use assessment under this Code section shall be separately classified from all other property on the tax digest; and such separate classification shall be such as will enable any person examining the tax digest to ascertain readily that the property is subject to current use assessment under this Code section. Covenants shall be public records and shall be indexed and maintained in such manner as will allow members of the public to locate readily the covenant affecting any particular property subject to current use assessment under this Code section. Based on information submitted by the county boards of tax assessors, the commissioner shall maintain a central registry of conservation use property, indexed by owners, so as to ensure that the 2,000 acre limitations of this Code section are complied with on a state-wide basis.
(s) The commissioner shall annually submit a report to the Governor, the Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Agricultural Statistical Service, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the Department of Natural Resources, and the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and the House Ways and Means, Natural Resources and Environment, and Agriculture and Consumer Affairs committees and the Senate Finance, Natural Resources and Environment, and Agriculture and Consumer Affairs committees and shall make such report available to other members of the General Assembly, which report shall show the fiscal impact of the assessments provided for in this Code section and Code Section 48-5-7.5. The report shall include the amount of assessed value eliminated from each countýs digest as a result of such assessments; approximate tax dollar losses, by county, to all local governments affected by such assessments; and any recommendations regarding state and local administration of this Code section and Code Section 48-5-7.5, with emphasis upon enforcement problems, if any, attendant with this Code section and Code Section 48-5-7.5. The report shall also include any other data or facts which the commissioner deems relevant.
(t) A public notice containing a brief, factual summary of the provisions of this Code section shall be posted in a prominent location readily viewable by the public in the office of the board of tax assessors and in the office of the tax commissioner of each county in this state.
(w) At such time as the property ceases to be eligible for current use assessment or when any ten-year covenant period expires and the property does not qualify for further current use assessment, the owner of the property shall file an application for release of current use treatment with the county board of tax assessors who shall approve the release upon verification that all taxes and penalties with respect to the property have been satisfied. After the application for release has been approved by the board of tax assessors, the board shall file the release in the office of the clerk of the superior court in the county in which the original covenant was filed. The clerk of the superior court shall file and index such release in the real property records maintained in the clerḱs office. No fee shall be paid to the clerk of the superior court for recording such release. The commissioner shall by regulation provide uniform release forms.
(x) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Code section to the contrary, in any case where a renewal covenant is breached by the original covenantor or a transferee who is related to that original covenantor within the fourth degree by civil reckoning, the penalty otherwise imposed by subsection (l) of this Code section shall not apply if the breach occurs during the sixth through tenth years of such renewal covenant, and the only penalty imposed shall be the amount by which current use assessment has reduced taxes otherwise due for each year in which such renewal covenant was in effect, plus interest at the rate specified in Code Section 48-2-40 from the date the covenant is breached.
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Last modified: April 27, 2006