Glynn County released a notice Monday of a $17.5 million preliminary settlement in a class-action lawsuit over improper application of the Scarlett Williams homestead exemption.
“We had an expert go in and calculate the refund amount, and we believe this will give class members 100 percent of what they’re due. You can’t get better than that,” Jay Roberts, attorney for the class, said.
He said the class includes upwards of 13,000 Glynn County residents.
“If you applied for and received the local homestead exemption known as the Scarlett Williams exemption ... for tax years 2010 through 2018, you may be a class member and eligible for a tax refund,” the notice released by the county reads.
The class-action lawsuit goes back to 2012 when J. Matthew and Elizabeth Coleman filed a lawsuit alleging they had been overcharged on property taxes due to misapplication of the Scarlett Williams homestead exemption.
In effect, the homestead exemption “freezes” a property’s assessed value at the value of the base year. In the lawsuit, the Colemans alleged the county had used the wrong base year. It had used the year they applied for an exemption as the base year, when it should have used the year before.
For some, this means the county has been overcharging them for years. For others, it may mean an increase in property taxes as their base year is changed to a year in which their property values were higher.
Two more lawsuits filed in 2013 and 2014 alleged the same thing, and all three were certified as a single class-action lawsuit in 2015.
Cobb County Superior Court Judge G. Grant Brantley sided with the county in 2017, clearing it of civil charges.
In March 2018, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the judge’s decision. The case went to the state Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case later that year in August. As such, the appeals court’s ruling stands. The settlement is not final until Judge Brantley issues his final order.
“The court will hold a final approval hearing at 10 a.m. on Nov. 8, 2019, at the Glynn County Courthouse. After the final approval hearing, the court will decide whether to approve the settlement. The court may also decide how much to pay class counsel or whether to approve the class service petition. We do not know how long it will take the court to make its decision,” according to the notice.
The settlement notice also details the method by which refunds will be calculated.
Generally, refund administrators will take the difference between the value of the correct year and the actual base year and multiply it by the county and Glynn County Schools millage rate.
Some factors may impact the calculations, such as the size of the property, whether or not the assessed value was “refrozen” — the practice of resetting the base year to a later year when values were lower — additional property tax exemptions and construction occurring between the incorrect and correct years.
“At this time, it is not known how much each individual refund will be. The administrators will calculate the individual refund amounts after the final approval hearing and after the court finally approves the settlement,” according to the notice.
Not all who meet the criteria will qualify for a refund, however. If the base year used to calculate property taxes is incorrect, but is less than or equal to the correct base year, that taxpayer will be excluded from the settlement, the notice states.
For more information on the settlement and to whom it applies, visit glynncounty.org/taxrefundcase.
Class counsel in the case is St. Simons Island law firm Roberts Tate. Anyone who meets the class criteria can call the firm at 912-638-5200.
“A lot of people have been doing so, starting today when the notice ran in the paper,” Roberts said.