FULTON COUNTY, Ga. – Fulton County’s attempt to resolve the furor over recent property assessments by reverting back to 2016 values has drawn the ire of the Georgia Department of Revenue.
The agency has rejected Fulton’s plan to submit last year’s values for its digest and questions the county’s right to do so.
The action draws a shadow over city and school budgets which were passed in recent months based on the Fulton County decision. Fulton County has filed a petition for an order authorizing it to collect temporary taxes based on last year’s valuations while the dispute is settled so that it, Fulton County Schools and the cities can keep cash flow coming in while the issue is being settled.
A hearing has been scheduled Friday, Nov. 3 on the matter in DeKalb County Superior Court after Fulton County judges recused themselves.
Fulton County was notified Thursday, Oct. 25, that the Department of Revenue would not approve the 2017 digest as submitted.
Inquiries to the Department of Revenue were referred to Fulton County for clarification.
In a letter to other taxing authorities in Fulton County, Fulton Vice Chairman Robert Ellis wrote that the action the board took to freeze residential property values at 2016 levels was made due to extraordinarily high revaluations this year that they did not appear to be uniform in their application.
“The Board of Commissioners took an innovative approach in 2017 that was necessary to protect homeowners from financial harm in the face of swiftly rising property values,” Ellis wrote. “The financial security of our residents remains our first priority.”
Ellis said the Department of Revenue identified some “routine issues with the digest submission.”
The Tax Commissioner’s Office and the Tax Assessors’ staff immediately began action and “expect that most of those issues will be fully resolved forthwith,” he wrote.
According to a Fulton County spokesperson, the state has questioned whether Fulton “had the right” to freeze tax assessments at 2016 levels and reissue them for 2017.
Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said he was not surprised at the Revenue Department’s actions because the rollbacks were not uniform – they only applied to residential properties.
Commercial properties were not included, thus the appraisals were not “uniform” in the eyes of the law, Bodker said.
“Also the law states that the values must be within 10 percent, plus or minus, of market value, which they clearly are not,” Bodker said. “So there is a problem.”
This will ensure a delay in tax bills going out and could throw all county taxing authorities into doubt as to when they can begin collecting revenue for their budgets.
Alpharetta Director of Finance Tom Harris said the city is assessing its cash flow in the wake of the state decision but he expects it will have no effect on operations. Meanwhile, he said, the city is providing all the financial data requested by the county for the Nov. 3 hearing.
Fulton County Schools is also looking for legal relief to get tax dollars flowing. It will ask the courts to allow Fulton County Schools to collect some portion of the property tax or look at borrowing funds through tax anticipation notes.
In a statement, Fulton County Schools said the Georgia Department of Revenue’s rejection is a “severe blow” to the ability of Fulton County Schools to pay its bills in the coming weeks.
The district calculates its budget based on 63 percent of the revenue coming from property taxes.
“The situation is dire,” said Robert Morales, chief financial officer for Fulton County Schools.
“The district now has a cash flow problem. We are trying to determine how the district will operate without the anticipated tax revenue, and we may need to borrow money to make our payroll and pay our bills.”
Typically, Fulton County sends property tax bills in early August and money is collected in mid-October.
October is ending and the county and Fulton County Schools are left with no expectation of sending out tax notices soon.
“The delay in property tax revenue puts our district in the difficult position of having to worry about how we will pay our 14,000 hardworking employees,” Board President Linda Bryant said.