U.S. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-Ga.) won’t be paying additional tax on a nearly 500-acre parcel of undeveloped land he bought four years ago in Camden County near the site of a planned spaceport.
Ending a two-year dispute over the property’s value, the Camden Board of Equalization last month agreed to freeze the land’s assessed value for tax years 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Carter did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Camden County Attorney John Myers did not respond either. Nor did three members of the Board of Equalization.
Carter, who represents all of coastal Georgia, lives at the northern end of District 1 in Chatham County. But in 2018 he paid $2.05 million for the land in the southernmost county of his district. While the parcel includes 250 acres of high ground zoned for residential development, Carter maintains he is keeping it for hunting and fishing and not as an investment. He didn’t include the purchase in his Congressional financial disclosures and claiming he didn’t buy it as an investment. But he has not put it in a conservation easement, a way to limit land use for a tax break.
The land sits about 10 miles from the planned Spaceport Camden, on the same road. Carter has been a proponent of the controversial project and just months after his land purchase he spearheaded a bipartisan letter from the Georgia Congressional delegation urging the Federal Aviation Administration to issue the county a launch site operator’s license.
In 2020, when Carter appealed his valuation, the Camden County tax assessor had set the land’s value at $273,810, slightly less than it had been the previous year and about 13% of what Carter paid two years prior. Carter cited “value” and “taxability” as the grounds for his appeal.
An adjacent property of only 85 acres, 61 of them upland, was assessed at $132,278 in 2020. Like Carter’s property, the parcel owned by owned by Schifanella Properties is zoned residential.
Savings of $27,000
The true financial benefit of the appeal would come in 2021 when the valuation rose to $1.3 million. His tax bill rose from $3,567 to $16,831. Because the settlement freezes the assessment for 2020-2022, he ultimately avoided paying the county about $27,000.
After Carter failed to appear at his Board of Equalization hearing in late 2020, the county considered the matter settled in its favor. But Carter filed suit, alleging he was misled by a county employee to believe he could be excused from that hearing and have his assessment frozen for three years by writing a letter stipulating his agreement with the contested assessment.
In January a superior court judge denied Camden’s request to dismiss the suit. Instead of the court hearing, which was expected in late summer, both parties agreed to send the matter back to the Board of Equalization. The Board met and approved the settlement at its May 10 meeting. Carter gets to keep the 2020 assessment until next year. Each party is paying its own legal fees.
Carter’s estimated net worth in 2019 was $66 million, making him the 10th wealthiest member of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time, according to a ranking by OpenSecrets.org.