Keeping alive U.S. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter’s request for relief on his property tax in Camden County, a judge on Tuesday sided with the congressman and against the county.
Carter had petitioned the court in February for an order to the Camden Board of Assessors and Board of Equalization regarding his contested property tax assessment. He wants either a freeze on the assessment at the 2020 level for three years — saving him about $30,000 in taxes — or another shot at a hearing on his property tax appeal.
Judge Stephen Kelley ruled only on Camden’s petition to dismiss the case, denying it. He also ordered both parties to engage in discovery ahead of the next hearing, the date of which is to be determined.
Savannah-based attorney Craig Call represented Carter at the hearing, which the congressman did not attend. Camden County Attorney John Myers represented the Board of Assessors; Brunswick-based Garret Meader represented the county’s Board of Equalization.
Carter, Coastal Georgia’s only Congressional representative, lives in Chatham County. But in 2018 he bought an undeveloped Camden property that’s about half the size of the town of Thunderbolt. He paid $2.05 million to Challenged Investments LLC, according to Camden County records. The land is about 220 acres of wetlands and 250 acres of higher ground zoned for residential development.
The 2020 tax assessment that Carter appealed put the land’s value at $274,000, about an eighth of what he paid two years prior.
Carter’s estimated net worth in 2019 was $66 million, making him the tenth wealthiest member of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a 2019 ranking by OpenSecrets.org.
Carter’s land sits about 10 miles southwest of the proposed site of Spaceport Camden, for which he has been a vocal proponent. About a month after he bought the property he organized a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration in support of the spaceport and collected signatures from the Georgia delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives. Despite the fact that the property is not in a conservation easement, Carter has maintained he bought it for hunting and fishing and not as an investment.
In filings, Carter claims he was misled by a county employee to believe he could be excused from a Board of Equalization hearing and have his assessment frozen for three years by writing a letter stipulating his agreement with the contested assessment.
Instead, after he wrote the letter and failed to appear at the Dec. 29, 2020, hearing, his 2021 property assessment increased to $1.3 million.
Kelley was sympathetic to Carter’s situation, suggesting that “the government shouldn’t entice someone to not show up and then hold that against them.” The situation could have been avoided if the Board of Equalization had phoned Carter to include him in the December 2020 hearing where he was a no-show, Kelley said.
“I know the law doesn’t say the government has to be kind, but I’d think every taxpayer deserves common courtesy,” Kelley said.
The county’s attorneys argued that Carter, like any citizen, is supposed to know what the law is and that he’s able to have legal council.
This hearing was previously scheduled for October but was postponed when Judge Anthony L. Harrison recused himself because he had a personal and professional relationship with Carter.
The Current requested permission to record the hearing on Tuesday, but Judge Kelley denied the request and did not provide a reason for the denial, as Georgia court rules require.