Auditing doubles $33 million in tower tax revenue
With tax season still close in the rearview mirror, it’s natural to think most taxable items get audited the way citizens’ taxes do. However, such is not always the case for cell towers. A new pilot program for cell tower auditing in Douglas County, Georgia, is likely to change all of that. Previously, tower owners in that area self reported the number of towers and the amount of equipment on each tower. They would then be taxed according to what they reported, but apparently not everyone was telling the truth.
A recent report reached city officials that one office found enough unreported towers and equipment to double the $33 million the county already made annually. To correct this, the county is starting with a pilot program, auditing 10 out of the 58 cell towers located in the county. Auditors will verify what equipment is being used on each tower, which affects the amount of tax owners are required to pay.
“We want to make sure all equipment is accounted for, itemized, categorized and valued. If one account is properly reporting, then they are paying fully what they need to. If a neighboring cell tower is not properly reporting, then it is considered out of uniformity,” said Chief Appraiser Benny Waldrop.
The county wanted to audit cell towers sooner, but since an economic recession a few years ago it was difficult to secure the budget. Whether the audit continues beyond the initial 10 towers depends on the number of discrepancies found in the first round.
“If the sample [10 towers] shows we are doing a decent job, then our methodology and reports are pretty much on target, so there wouldn’t be a need for phase two,” Waldrop said.
It is likely there are many counties across the country in a similar situation with many cell towers and no auditing taking place, so what happens in this Georgia pilot program may be a wake-up call for other counties to examine more closely just what equipment is living on its respective towers.
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