SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Every day this week, WTOC is highlighting each one of the five amendments that are on the Georgia ballot in the upcoming general election. Amendment 3 aims to reduce taxes for landowners that grow timber.
Regardless of where you are traveling in Georgia, whether on the interstate or back roads, you’re bound to come across the same scenic routes surrounded by trees. That’s because forests make up more than half of the state of Georgia. There are millions of acres, the majority of which are privately owned, so individuals or family forests are forced to wait decades before cashing in on their crop, and as they wait to get paid, they have to pay the taxes on the land every year.
"There are 159 counties. Sometimes it’s a little too high, sometimes it’s a little too low,” said Bryan County landowner, Fred Warnell. Fred Warnell’s family has been in the timber business since the 1800s. He’s seen first-hand how taxes can impact the timber business.
"I see a lot of small landowners who really struggle with the idea of [whether] can they keep their land,” Warnell said.
Amendment 3, Georgia’s Fair Forest Tax, aims to level the playing field statewide for landowners who grow timber. Right now, land owners in some counties could be taxed at a higher rate because of commercial property nearby.
If landowners decide to sell, Georgia could start losing timber production to developers.
“We are trying to get uniformity in the state and we are trying to conserve,” Warnell said. “We are trying to make it a conservation program so that we can keep these smaller tracks from being fragmented or all of it being developed."
Right now, timber brings in more than $35 billion dollars a year and generates more than 144,000 jobs.
It's up to the voters to decide whether landowners should be taxed at a fairer rate statewide or keep it in the hands of the local governments.
“This is to help them to help all timber land owners," Warnell said.