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Fulton County settles appraisal issue – for now

Commissioners vote to roll back values to 2016 numbers

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FULTON COUNTY, Ga. – As promised, the Fulton County Commissioners voted June 21 to rescind 2017 property tax appraisals and replace home values set back to their 2016 levels.

The move followed hundreds of complaints from residents who saw their home values increase –some by more than 50 percent this year – and put them in line for steep jumps in their property taxes.

The vote overturned a decision by the county’s Board of Assessors to implement new appraisals in which nearly a quarter of Fulton County homeowners saw their property values rise by more than 50 percent.

“Today’s vote was not just a monetary or fiscal matter, it was a moral issue,” Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said. “What we did today was vote to keep seniors from losing their homes; people from having to choose between paying for medicine or tax bills. Our vote will allow all people — regardless of their zip code — to keep their homes by giving them time to adjust to rising property values over time.”

State and local officials spent the past three weeks fielding complaints from outraged residents who complained the new assessments were arbitrary and, in some cases, in error, based on the physical descriptions of their property.

The whirlwind surrounding the value placed on property this year has left local governments in a bind. The county, its cities and the school district depend on an accurate accounting of property values when they prepare budgets for the upcoming year.

Alpharetta and Roswell have already adopted their 2018 budgets which go into effect July 1. Both call for upticks in spending over last year, and both call for keeping the tax rate on property – or mill levy – the same as the prior year.

But while Roswell went into the budget season anticipating virtually no increase in revenues from property taxes, Alpharetta estimated an additional $1 million – from $19.9 million last year to $21.1 million for the coming year.

The county’s freeze applies only to existing residential properties, and few cities have seen the explosion of growth in new residential and commercial property over the past year as Alpharetta.

The county resolution not only freezes the assessment levels on existing residential property, it directs the Fulton County Board of Assessors to:

• Fix errors and miscalculations in the 2017 tax digest;

• Reinstate all freezes implemented under the Consumer Price Index exemption that were removed in 2017;

• Require the Assessors’ Office to update its website to provide taxpayers with online access to their current notices of assessment within 30 days, and within 10 days once the revised 2016 levels notices are mailed.

Minutes before the city’s 2018 budget was adopted last week, Alpharetta Finance Director Tom Harris told City Council members that the freeze could mean an estimated shortfall of $500,000 in anticipated revenues.

City leaders went ahead and approved the budget, identifying $448,000 of new operating initiatives — like added positions in public safety — that could be targeted for cuts if necessary.

Johns Creek and Milton have several more months before adopting their 2018 budgets, so their estimates for property tax revenue are likely to be based on more timely information. And, they will have more time to adjust spending plans accordingly.

Even so, with cities facing less revenue than originally anticipated, Eaves’ final statement last week directed local officials to reduce property taxes even further.

“We ask our mayors and city councils and school boards to follow our lead and roll back millage rates to offer even more relief to taxpayers,” he said.


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