Fulton County Commissioners Freeze Tax Assessments

Last Wednesday the Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted to freeze the county’s tax assessments at last year’s level with exceptions for newly constructed buildings and improvements made in 2016. This will be a disruptive process for every municipality and school system who relies on those assessments for budgeting purposes but it was the right thing to do given the bad situation. I appreciate the Fulton County Commissioners doing the right thing for our residents and would specifically like to than Chairman John Eaves and Vice Chairman Bob Ellis for their leadership on this matter.

The financial burden for an uneven and unreliable Fulton County tax assessment process will now fall on the governments and schools systems who rely on property taxes to pay employees and provide services. The City of Alpharetta will have to do a little shuffling of priorities based on the lower tax digest but we are financially sound and there shouldn’t be any noticeable impact to our residents.

That may not be the case for some other cities and school systems. A representative from Atlanta Public Schools specifically expressed concern that a frozen digest would be an undue burden on them because their budget already anticipated the projected growth of 3% in their tax digest.

If anything good is to come from this year’s tax assessment mess it will hopefully be that state legislators and Fulton County Commissioners will work closely with the affected municipalities and school systems to make sure this never happens again. We shall see.

Below is the Fulton County press release explaining last week’s decision  in greater detail.

During its June 21 meeting, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted to correct the 2017 Tax Digest, as provided by law.

Through a unanimous vote, the Board of Commissioners directed the Tax Assessors to utilize the 2016 digest as a base year, making modifications to capture new parcels added since 2016 and new construction and improvements completed as of January 1, 2017. The Assessors were also directed to reinstate 299(c) exemptions removed in error and add the 2017 values on commercial properties whose valuations were the result of an intensive assessment process conducted in 2016.

The Board’s action came after hearing concerns expressed by thousands of residents. Since notices were issued in late May, more than a thousand Fulton County residents attended a series of town hall meetings. Many others reached out to the Board of Commissioners through emails, phone calls and letters to express their concerns with the process.

The Board of Commissioners learned of numerous issues with the 2017 digest, including a high number of increases above 50%, “unfreezing” of properties whose values were frozen through appeal, inconsistent application of the CPI freeze, and other issues.

The corrective resolution adopted by the Board was sponsored by Chairman John H. Eaves, Vice Chairman Bob Ellis and Commissioner Liz Hausmann.

“Today’s vote was not just a monetary or fiscal matter, it was a moral issue,” said Chairman John H. Eaves. “Our vote not only corrects the 2017 tax digest, it in effect sets property assessments at 2016 levels to bring emergency and immediate relief to our taxpayers which they demanded and deserve.”

“Thanks to everyone who recognized the urgency of this issue and worked to come up with a solution,” said Vice Chairman Bob Ellis. “The action by the Board today is the best and most appropriate action we can take to allow the necessary time to correct numerous errors in individual assessments, work towards changes to our property tax system and eliminate the severe and unjust impact that inaction would have caused on the lives of so many of our Citizens.”

Commissioner Liz Hausmann said, “This action serves to protect Fulton County property owners from an undue high tax burden this year, and allow the Georgia legislature to work on a simpler, fairer system in the next legislative session.”

All Fulton County property owners will receive updated assessment notices once the corrections are completed.

The Board of Commissioners sought to balance the need to find a solution for 2017 assessments while allowing taxing jurisdictions, including cities and school boards, to capture the value of new construction in their communities. Those agencies will be notified of the changes. Steps will be taken to minimize impact on other taxing agencies.

During a meeting on Monday, June 19, 2017, with the Fulton County Legislative Delegation, the Georgia Senate State, and Local Government Operations Committee, members of the Board of Commissioners expressed their plans to work with the Georgia General Assembly during the 2018 Legislative Session to explore property tax relief measures and improvements to the tax assessment process.

 

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2017 Fulton County Property Tax Assessment Increase Update

A few days ago I wrote this article about this Fulton County’s recent property tax assessments after receiving numerous calls and messages from neighbors with questions or complaints. As I mentioned in the previous article city officials like myself have absolutely no control over the assessments so our only options are to leverage whatever political influence we may have to encourage a reasonable resolution by those who do have control of the situation and adjust our local tax rate as we see fit based on the decision handed down.

With that in mind I have had several conversations with elected officials at the state and county level over the past few days and would like to provide an update. Every elected official I have spoken to is upset with the way the tax assessment process has been handled and I have been encouraged by the attention given to this urgent matter. One way or another local governments need to know our tax base as soon as possible. The city of Alpharetta will begin our current budget ends in less than three weeks and it is absolutely absurd that we still don’t know what our property tax base will be to plan for the next year.

Fulton County Vice Chairman Bob Ellis who represents Fulton’s 2nd District and lives in Milton has been at the forefront of trying to resolve this convoluted problem. Vice Chair Ellis held a public meeting last Thursday to hear from residents. This report from 11 Alive titled “Tempers Erupt in Meeting Halls over Fulton County Tax Bills” covered the meeting. A lot of upset taxpayers took advantage of the opportunity to voice their concerns and when I spoke to Bob on Friday he was sincerely glad to given them the opportunity. You may watch the full video of the town hall meeting here.

Vice Chair Ellis has also called upon state legislators to intervene if the problems cannot be successfully resolved at the local level. I am personally concerned about further state involvement in local governance because some of the existing assessment problems are unintended consequences of previous legislation. For example, state law currently requires governments to value residential properties between 90 and 110 percent of fair market value so Fulton County can be fined $1 million if this years’ assessments don’t reflect those values regardless of the consequences. But despite reservations about further state involvement I do appreciate Bob’s insistence that the situation must be remedied one way or another.

Fulton County Chairman John Eaves has also been vocal about the tax assessment problem. Last week Chairman Eaves joined Vice Chair Ellis in calling for the Board of Assessors to rescind the 2017 property tax assessments. Chairman Eaves has also been vocal in calling for a freeze on tax assessments until the issues can be resolved:

“To our homeowners, this is a financial emergency,” Eaves said. “A freeze would mean that most would pay the same in taxes, so long as city hall and school board millage rates were not increased in the past year.”

The Fulton County Board of Assessors was scheduled to vote on the requested tax freeze last week but postponed the vote until this Thursday. However the chief tax appraiser says he won’t recommend rescinding the assessments even at that time.

State Senator John Albers from Roswell who calls the assessment situation a “fiasco” is following the matter closely in case state intervention is required has also expressed concerns that the tax board meeting should be conducted in a more convenient forum for his constituents.

One way or the other it is imperative that the Tax Board resolve the situation immediately so that local governments can make informed decisions on tax millage rates and budgets for next year. This is unacceptable.

Before the tax board’s decision scheduled this week Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann who represents District 1 and lives in Johns Creek will also hold one more public meeting to discuss the matter this Wednesday night, June 14, at Johns Creek High School at 7:00 p.m. I encourage those of you who have questions or comments to please attend the meeting and be heard.

Hausmann meeting copy