Fulton Reassessments Out Of Control
June 23, 2017
Note: The following editorial written by Rep. Jones appeared in the Milton Herald on June 21. It has been updated to reflect more recent information about this changing issue.
I want to make it clear to north Fulton residents that all hands are on deck to address skyrocketing property tax reassessments and the prospect of (even more) unaffordable property taxes.
Real solutions may take awhile to fully sort out to the recent massive property tax reassessments. That’s small solace to a family raising children and paying the bills or a retiree wishing to remain in the community.
Like many of you, I was aghast when I opened my reassessment notice from the Fulton County Board of Assessors (BOA). Shortly thereafter, I realized what I’d thought was merely my problem was a debacle for good, hardworking and retired taxpayers throughout Fulton.
No one in their right mind would believe one-quarter of Fulton County parcels could have 50 percent or higher justifiable revaluations. Or that 50 percent of the county merits 20 percent or higher reassessments.
Residents have further reason for skepticism. A 2005 independent audit of the BOA revealed significant operational deficiencies. Then, the BOA failed property valuation performance reviews conducted by the Georgia Department of Revenue in 2010 and 2013. Litigation is ongoing. Finally, the state is currently reviewing Fulton’s 2016 valuations due to suspected problems.
My home’s assessment and, thus, my property taxes did not decline by one red cent during the greatest recession since the Great Depression and the ensuing real estate collapse. That’s true for many. This means fellow residents paid higher taxes for years than their property values merited.
North Fulton state legislators and the locally elected officials I have spoken with are 100% committed to putting remedies in place, including changing the reassessment process. One long-term solution would freeze homeowners’ reassessments as long as they own their home through a new homestead exemption for school board and city taxes. This would require state legislation when the legislature reconvenes in January 2018 and a subsequent voter referendum in November.
I am confident about the prospects of this measure. The freeze could only apply going forward, though, not retroactively.
Earlier, I recommended to constituents that they appeal all five percent or higher reassessments after the county extended the appeals deadline to July 10. Subsequently, though, the Fulton Board of Commission has decided appeals are not necessary at this time as they seek to another solution.
The FC Board of Assessors (BOA) are a quasi-independent board appointed by the Commission as a whole. The BOA generally has the discretion to approve a package of reassessments. Just recently, Commissioners asserted it has similar authority under a 19th century statute and voted to rescind the new reassessments kicking the valuations back to 2016 figures. I am hopeful this decision will stick legally.
As background, our property tax bill has three parts: School board, county and city. The school board portion comprises roughly 55 percent, county 30 percent and city 15 percent.
One bright spot is an existing homestead exemption that freezes reassessments for the 30% county portion of property tax bills. As for current senior exemptions, there are few, except for fully disabled or very low income households. In contrast, most surrounding counties have generous senior school board homestead exemptions.
As an example of our cities, Milton has a $15,000 general senior exemption that I put in place at the time of incorporation. Alpharetta has the most generous city general homestead exemption in the state at $40,000.
Solutions will not be the result of any one person, but rather the work of locally elected officials, state representatives and senators and concerned citizens. I suggest you make it clear to your elected representatives that you want protections through homestead exemptions and millage rate roll-backs so you can predictably afford to pay your property taxes and live in north Fulton.
We have an awesome quality of life; we just pay too much for it.
State Representative Jan Jones (Milton)
Speaker Pro Tempore of the Georgia House of Representatives