It was year of ironing out new tag tax law

by Sarah Fay Campbell

It's been a year of big changes at the Coweta County Tag Office.

The state's new "title ad valorem tax" law, which does away with the yearly tax on motor vehicle tags, went into effect on March 1.

The first few months proved difficult, with long lines, computer mishaps and irate customers. At times, customers who arrived at the tag office on Perry Street in downtown Newnan after 4 p.m. were turned away.

But after a few months, the process smoothed out considerably.

Most of the problems in the beginning were from people "opting in" to the new system. Anyone who bought a car after Jan. 1, 2012, could opt in when they renewed their tags for 2013, but many Cowetans decided to rush to the tag office instead of waiting until their birthdays.

There were also a number of people who had no understanding of the new system.

"It has certainly calmed down," said Robi Brook, tag office manager. "And a lot of people who come in do know something about it. They may not understand it completely, but they've heard about it."

The law replaces the annual tax on motor vehicles with the one-time title ad valorem tax. The law also eliminated the sales tax on vehicles.

For those who bought their vehicles from a dealer — a dealer in Georgia, that is — the change results in significant savings. The TAVT is roughly the same as the sales tax would have been, and there's no annual tag tax to worry about, just the $20 tag fee.

Georgians who bought used cars from individuals, however, were met with a significant new charge when they registered the vehicles.

In 2013, the TAVT was a 6.5 percent charge on the value of the vehicle. In 2014, it goes to 6.75, and in 2015, it will be 7 percent.

Those with January or February birthdays who are eligible to opt in still have a chance to do so. The opt-in period ends Feb. 28. If you plan to opt in, be sure to do it before your birthday. If you are late, you'll be left paying the ad valorem tax as well as any additional tax needed to opt in.

Those who have recently moved to Georgia are the hardest hit by the law.

"Out-of-state people are probably the biggest group of complaints we have," said Brook. "It's a big impact on somebody moving in from out of state, if they are not expecting it. A lot of them are shocked, and I can understand why," Brook said.

State law allows those new to Georgia to pay half of the TAVT up front, and take up to a year to pay the remainder. Some people come in and make payments whenever they have extra money, Brook said.

The "value" of the vehicle is based on the value in the Georgia Department of Revenue's manual.

It doesn't take into account the condition of the vehicle or any needed repairs. Cowetans who disagree with the value assigned to their vehicle can appeal it. Tag office personnel can now make adjustments for high mileage. Previously, that adjustment required appealing to the tax assessors office.

Deductions for anything other than high mileage still require an appeal to the tax assessors office. And before you can appeal, you have to pay the tax on the contested value.

If you're happy with the mileage adjustment, you can accept it. But if you're not, you still have to pay the tax on the full value to be eligible to appeal.

You can't really appeal based on the general condition of the vehicle, but you can appeal for damage and problems. Before the tax assessors office can take any action, "everything has to be documented," said Mike Marchese, chief appraiser of the Coweta County Tax Assessors Office. "We're not ever going to go out and just kick the tires and say we'll knock $2,000 off it," he said. "We're not experts in automobile valuations. We didn't want this. We didn't ask for it. It's just what the state said and this is the method to do it."

Documentation means estimates from reputable repair shops. "Even if you choose not to fix it you would probably have to jump through some hoops," Marchese said.

Some of the toughest valuations are when a consumer buys a car that is a fleet or demo vehicle. It may be a 2014, but it already has a lot of miles on it. However, "the state values it as a brand new car," Marchese said.

He estimates there have been about 100 appeals since the TAVT law went into effect on March 1. That's a lot fewer than expected.

If you're going to appeal, it needs to be done before your birthday.

Anyone wanting more information may contact the Coweta Tag Office at 770-254-2631.

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