Fairway Outdoor Advertising removed its three signs at Ruth Jackson Road and U.S. 78 earlier this month and has illuminated the third side of its LED sign at Epps Bridge Parkway and the Oconee Connector.
Despite what county officials said would be the case, however, the county will see no increase in sales tax revenue as a result of the new, large illuminated signs Fairway has installed at two locations on Epps Bridge Parkway.
|Epps Bridge Parkway, 8/24/2013|
Advertising is considered a service, not a product, and is not subject to sales tax, according to Amy Oneacre at the Georgia Department of Revenue.
Any agreement that calls for the furnishing of advertising displays is considered a service that is not taxable as a lease, the state taxing regulations Oneacre gave me state. An agreement that requires an “outdoor advertising company to display an advertiser’s message” also is not taxable.
Permit Issued July 30
Russ Henson, building inspector with the Oconee County Code Enforcement Office, signed a permit on July 30 for the third face of the sign above the building housing Verizon and Starbucks, 1761 Epps Bridge Parkway.
Gaby Bryan from Code Enforcement sent a memorandum to B.R. White, head of Code Enforcement, that day saying that Fairway was agreeing to remove the billboard at 2781 Monroe Highway (U.S. 78).
|Epps Bridge Parkway, 7/13/2013|
The sign was removed on Aug. 5, according to a note on Bryan’s memorandum to White.
According to the permit documents, Fairway planned to finish work on the 336-square-foot new sign on Aug. 13. The new sign was estimated to be worth $40,000.
White had told me on July 9 that his office was checking the two signs nearly weekly to make sure that Fairway removed the three old, partially obstructed signs at Ruth Jackson Road before illuminating the new sign on Epps Bridge Parkway.
Three Officials Expecting Tax
The two huge LED signs Fairway installed on Epps Bridge Parkway late last year and early this year were part of a settlement with the county of a lawsuit filed by Fairway over county sign ordinances. Fairway’s local office is at 3420 Jefferson Road, Athens.
Oconee County Chief Appraiser Allen Skinner told me in July that Fairway would be paying sales taxes on the advertising it was selling on the signs and that the county would see an increase in sales tax revenue as a result.
|Ruth Jackson And U.S. 78, 8/24/2013|
This same expectation was relayed to me in subsequent conversations I had with Oconee County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko and with Finance Director Wes Geddings. Benko preceded Geddings as finance director.
Skinner, Benko and Geddings are not experts on state tax law, and all of them referred me to the Department of Revenue for details on revenue to be generated by the signs.
Oneacre told me that the state does not tax services, with a few exceptions. Hotels are taxed, she said, as are taxi rides. Oconee County Rep. Chuck Williams had helped me identify Oneacre and get a clarification on state sales tax rules on advertising.
Skinner Assessing Leases
Beginning this year, Skinner has assessed the value of the leases that the landowners sign with Fairway and other sign companies and taxed that lease. Wright Land Company owns the land on which the three-sided sign stands.
Skinner told me he was stimulated to take this action after the new, LED signs went up on Epps Bridge Parkway. Sign companies already paid taxes on the value of the signs themselves, he said.
|Ruth Jackson And U.S. 78, 7/13/2013|
Businessman Mike Power was the sole landowner who objected to the assessment for the leases, Skinner told me.
Diane Lilienthal, administrative secretary in Skinner’s office, said in a telephone conversation on Monday that Power’s appeal is before the Board of Equalization for resolution. She said that no date has yet been set for that review.