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.

 

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

 

2017 Fulton County Property Tax Assessments

Yesterday I received my 2017 Fulton County Property Tax Assessment in the mail the same way thousands of my neighbors and constituents did. And within minutes of reading my own assessment I started receiving texts from several of those neighbors who were upset or had questions about their bills.

For the record my 2017 estimated property tax bill is more than $2100 higher than my 2016 tax bill. The new total is just over $7400 with roughly $1300 (18%) going to the City of Alpharetta, $2000 going to Fulton County (27%) and $4100 (55%) going to the Fulton County School system.

So I understand why many people were surprised and some were upset when they got their new tax assessments this week. I certainly didn’t like finding out I may have to pay almost $200 a month more in taxes this year either. However as a real estate agent with a healthy knowledge of property values in our area I am comfortable with the assessed value assigned to my home by the Fulton County tax assessor. That hasn’t always been the case though.

I bought my home in 2003. It was during a real estate downturn and my purchase price was substantially below the tax assessment for that year. I filed an appeal based on the lower actual sale price and as I recall it was eventually lowered to reflect the recent sale.

By 2008 my assessment had increased substantially to reflect the market and then the real estate market plummeted so my tax assessment was once again well above the true market value. I filed an unsuccessful appeal based on the prevailing market conditions but it took a couple of years before the assessment was eventually reduced to reflect the true market value.

Of course by the time my assessment was reduced the market had started recovering and I believe my tax assessment was substantially lower than market value for several years afterward. As you might expect I did not appeal for higher assessments when I felt the assessment was too low.

In my experience the assessments weren’t always what I considered to be the prevailing market value but the fluctuations seemed to average out about right over time. Generally that is the case because assessments tend to be a lagging indicator of property values as they fluctuate in both directions because it usually takes a few years for an assessor to adjust every parcel in a county with nearly a million residents.

So if you feel your property tax assessment is too high you may be right. It should eventually even out over time but if you are certain the assessor has made an error in your case there is an appeal process available to you.

I suggest that anyone concerned about the amount of their tax assessment start by checking one of the publicly available online tools to estimate their market value based on recent sales. Zillow has a reasonably good valuation tool at www.zillow.com/find-your-home/ but there are many others too. You can also ask a local real estate agent if you know one who might be willing to assist you.

No online estimate is a guarantee of a successful tax assessment appeal but it could help. On the other hand if you discover that other estimates are similar to the tax assessor’s valuation it may be hard to support your appeal. Either way you have 45 days from the date of your assessment to file an appeal.

The official date of my assessment was May 19, 2017. As a result my deadline to file a written appeal is July 3, 2017. Check your assessment notice to verify the date if you are considering an appeal.

You can find a printable version of the form for filing a tax assessment appeal is available at bit.ly/taxassessmentappealform. For additional information you can also check the state Department of Revenue website here: https://dor.georgia.gov/property-tax-real-and-personal-property

An alternative would be to hire a business that offers to handle your tax assessment appeal for a fee. I have never used such a service and have heard differing opinions on their value but it may be worth exploring for those of you who feel an inaccurate assessment could cost you a great deal of money.

Please understand that there is absolutely nothing I or anybody else with the City of Alpharetta can do about your assessment but if you have any questions about the process please let me know and I will do my best to get you a straight answer.

Senator Beach Proposes 50% MARTA Tax Hike

Every man, woman and child in Fulton county has to pay a 7% sales tax which means a hundred dollar pair of shoes really costs them $107. Of that $7 tax one dollar goes to subsidize MARTA. It may not sound like much but over the course of a year it adds up to about $265 million dollars.

Now two hundred and sixty five million dollars is a lot of money no matter how you look at it but in a county with a million residents it might be justified if the taxes were going to something everyone uses, needs or wants. Unfortunately in a county plagued by congestion only a tiny percentage of Fulton County residents use MARTA trains during rush hour.  The census charts below demonstrate only 2% of the county’s population ride MARTA trains to work.

Fulton commute chartFulton commute stats

More people work from home or even walk to work than ride MARTA trains but we pay hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize the trains. It is a perfect example of why Fulton County already has transportation issues. Politicians allocate transportation money based on politics rather than sound fiscal policy.

Which brings us  to this news story from 11 Alive News about Alpharetta’s own State Senator Brandon Beach who is proposing a 50% MARTA sales tax hike to expand trains into North Fulton. While I couldn’t disagree more with Senator Beach on this issue I do appreciate his consistency. He was pushing for heavy rail in his dual role as CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and President of the North Fulton CID long before he was elected to the state legislature.

But there is absolutely no objective justification for a massive tax increase to expand the least used, least efficient, least flexible and most expensive transit option available in Fulton County. Over the past few decades billions of dollars have been spent to subsidize a rail system which serves a tiny  portion of our population while the roads that support 100% of residents have been sorely neglected. Any further diversion of transportation money to MARTA trains will only make the problem worse.

A transportation tax increase of hundreds of millions of dollars on Alpharetta residents dedicated to trains that would make traffic here worse would be unconscionable so as an elected representative for 63,000 residents I will not support this effort. Instead I will vigorously oppose any legislation which would permit a 50% MARTA tax increase and encourage my fellow elected officials in Fulton County to do the same.

 

Fulton County Deeds Former Library Property To Alpharetta

Yesterday an extraordinary example of cooperation between Fulton County and the City of Alpharetta occurred. After the City of Alpharetta had donated land for a new library downtown the Fulton County Commission returned the favor by donating the old library site back to the city. Historically our two political entities have had trouble working together so it is nice to see that in recent years we have been able to look past political differences and cooperate in ways that benefit all of our constituents.

I can honestly say that both our Fulton County Commissioners and the Library Board were helpful and gracious in meetings I attended as we looked for ways to work together rather than just score political brownie points. It is never easy for two political entities to put politics aside but I applaud Fulton County Chairman John Eaves, Vice Chairman Liz Hausmann and the entire Fulton County Commission for their efforts in this case. I would especially like to thank Commissioner Bob Ellis for taking the time to meet with me about this topic on several occasions.

Below is a press release issued by the City of Alpharetta yesterday:

In action taken this morning, the Fulton County Commission voted to deed roughly 3 acres of land and a building located at the corner of Mayfield Road and Canton Street to the City of Alpharetta. The property is the location of the former public library that was closed earlier this year.
“We are pleased that the property will remain in public hands so that it can continue to serve as an amenity to the citizens of Alpharetta,” said Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. “We are grateful to the members of the County Commission for today’s action and for fulfilling the assurances previously made to us.”

In December 2013 the City of Alpharetta donated 3 acres of land in its City Center Project to Fulton County to serve as the site for the new Alpharetta Branch Library. Shortly after making the donation the City began conversations with members of the County Commission to express their interest in gaining control of the Canton Street site.

The City plans to hold an open house at Alpharetta City Hall beginning at 7:00 PM on Monday, September 21 to begin a public conversation on the future use of the Canton Street property. The purpose of that session is to provide Alpharetta citizens with an opportunity to share their ideas for how the property should be used.

Fulton County tax dollars at work

Last night the Alpharetta Planning Commission took up the issue of taxpayer subsidized apartments for seniors. The commission voted to deny the petition but the Alpharetta City Council will eventually have the final say.

The subsidized senior housing will be an important decision for Alpharetta because it would once again ignore our land use plan in favor of adding more high density residential housing. It would also lower the city’s ratio of owner occupied properties to rental properties even further below the 85% as required by law.

But even more than the fact that the proposal is bad for Alpharetta, what bothers me most is that my tax dollars are being used to lobby my elected representatives against my own interests. As I mentioned in this previous blog post, employees of the City of Alpharetta used public resources to circulate emails in favor of the proposal and offered to give bus rides on to seniors that were willing to attend zoning meetings in support of the proposal. I found that use of public funds inexcusable and to their credit it seems that the City of Alpharetta put a stop to the activity.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Fulton County. Someone emailed me the picture below that shows a Fulton County bus from the Dorothy C. Benson Multipurpose Complex which brought seniors from Sandy Springs to the Alpharetta zoning meeting last night. In case you didn’t make the connection the Sandy Springs senior center is named after the leading proponent of the subsidized housing project, Ms. Dorothy (Dot) Benson.

So who paid to bring people from Sandy Springs to lobby a planning commission meeting in Alpharetta? Was it the developer? Was it Ms. Benson? Or was it the taxpayers of Fulton County footing the bill to support this advocacy?

I respect Ms. Benson and all of the private citizens that support the developer’s zoning proposal. They have every right to come from anywhere they wish and lobby my representatives. But I should not be forced to pay the bill for them to do so. If Fulton County has money to spend on this kind of activism I am sure there are seniors in Alpharetta that would love an air conditioned ride to the next Tea Party rally.

Fulton County property taxes… the gouging has to stop

I received my 2011 Fulton County property tax assessment this weekend and the amount has gone down some from last year but it still an unrealistically high assessment. If the county is willing to pay me that much for my house I’ll gladly take them up on it.

Last year I calculated that my property tax assessment was 10-15% too high but decided against filing an appeal because of the hassle involved compared to the savings. This year despite the lower assessment the county is still trying to charge me 15-20% too much and my patience has run out. Average property values in Atlanta are back in the year 2000-2001 price range and paying taxes based on a 2005 assessment is getting old, especially when the state is planning to raise my sales taxes next year anyway. This year I am appealing.

If you are being gouged too I recommend you do the same. The deadline for appealing your assessment is 6/21/2011 if you wish to join me.