Georgia House Bill 283 (H.B. 283), passed in 1991, established a conservation use covenant for agricultural and forest land. Then, H.B. 66, in 1993, and Senate Bill 506, in 1994, provided technical corrections and other improvements to the original legislation. There are also provisions for environmentally sensitive lands and residential transitional property. Entering a Conservation Use covenant with the county allows qualifying agricultural and forest land to be valued and taxed at its current use value instead of its FMV.
Preferential Assessment and Conservation Use Valuation cannot be used on the same tract of land. However, qualified landowners can place up to 2,000 acres in each program. In addition, landowners owning more than 3,000 acres of land in Georgia are restricted by law from entering the Conservation Use program.
Other details and sign-up forms for the conservation use covenant are available at your county tax assessor office. The sign-up period is January 1 through March 1 for most counties. Contact your County Extension Office, Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Forestry Association, Georgia Forestry Commission, and/or your County Tax Assessor for more information.
The State Department of Revenue (DOR) determines the value of conservation use agricultural and forest property. The value is based on the land productivity, location, and major use (crop, pasture or forest). The landowner enters a covenant with the county agreeing to maintain the conservation use for 10 years.
The conservation uses are agricultural, forestry, and environmentally sensitive properties. The covenant benefit to the qualified landowner is that the bare land is taxed based on its current use instead of FMV which is usually based on highest and best use.
FMV and Preferential Assessment are based, in part, on the highest and best use of the land. Therefore, FMV and Preferential Assessment are usually higher than Current Use Valuation. An ad valorem tax benefit is usually earned by the landowner under a conservation use covenant. However, landowners should carefully evaluate the three alternatives. One trade-off is that the landowner must maintain the Conservation Use on the land for 10 years or face a stiff tax penalty for land use changes.
As reported by the DOR, there are currently, 29,217 conservation use covenants in Georgia for farm and forest land. Landowners have earned $30,494,146 in county ad valorem tax savings for 1992 and 1993. This is an average tax savings of $1,044 per covenant per year.
Sign-up for these programs is through the county tax assessor office from January 1 up to prior to the property tax filing deadline, March 1 or April 1 depending on the county. However, 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.