McIntosh Officials Fear Lost Tax Funds; Two Commissioners Say Large Landowners Should Be Paying More in Property Taxes

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Byline: MIKE MORRISON

DARIEN - A couple of McIntosh County commissioners claim some large landowners in the county are taking advantage of local tax laws to avoid paying what they say would be higher - and more equitable - property taxes.

George W. "Bubba" Deverger Jr. and Steve Jessup say large landowners, including paper companies, which own thousands of acres of land in the county, pay taxes on their property based on an agricultural assessment. At the same time, they're marketing some of their land as developable residential or commercial property, which would be taxed at a much higher rate.

"They're wanting their property taxed at one value, while they've got it for sale at another value," Deverger said.

The landowners are taking advantage of a Keep Georgia Green initiative that passed by referendum several years ago, Deverger said, which led to reduced property taxes on timberland. The intent of that referendum has been corrupted, he said.

"We went from the green of trees to the green of money," he said.

Property in the coastal county, much of it marsh- or riverfront, has become increasingly desirable to developers.

"I think the great majority of land held by paper companies is grossly undervalued," Jessup said.

McIntosh County Manager Luther Smart recognized there is a disparity, but said the county's hands are tied.

"I don't know how we're going to cure that," he said.

Landowners can "do that by state law," he said. "We can't develop a local ordinance that conflicts with state law. We have to operate within the constraints of the law even though we know what they're pulling."

Two paper companies, Rayonier and International, have been large landowners in the county, but International has sold off most of its property to developers, Chief Appraiser John Barnes said. …