- Arielle Kass The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Despite requests from county leaders that they rescind high property assessments, members of the Fulton County Board of Assessors chose Thursday to delay the decision for a week, saying they did not yet know all the consequences of delaying the assessment process.
“I need to understand the ramifications,” said Salma Ahmed, a member of the board. “On a legal level, I have to understand what is allowed.”
The Board of Assessors will meet again Thursday, where they will again take up the request from Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves and others that the 2017 assessments be reviewed for errors. Eaves said afterward that he was “disappointed” the board had not acted.
The request to rescind assessments came from both Fulton and the city of Atlanta, after many residents across the county saw huge jumps in their property assessments. Nearly a quarter of the 318,000 residential parcels in Fulton had assessments that were up 50 percent or more; half were up by at least 20 percent.
One, Lillian Birchette, said her assessment was up more than 200 percent.
“I was amazed,” she said. “That’s ridiculous.”
In an impassioned plea to members of the board, Fulton County Commission Vice Chairman Bob Ellis said there was “no logical explanation” for so many of the increases.
“These are people’s lives. These are your neighbors,” he said. “I beg of you and plead of you, rescind the notice and conduct another review.”
One board member, R.J. Morris, has already said he’s in favor of granting the commissioners’ request. But another, Dillon Fries, said the issue isn’t with the assessments — it’s with whatever taxes commissioners, cities and schools choose to levy.
“What they want us to do is inappropriate,” Fries said.
Rescinding assessments and freezing them at 2016 levels, as Eaves requested Thursday, would only serve to kick the problem of rising property values down the road, said Brandi Hunter, vice chair of the Board of Assessors.
Hunter, who said her own assessment is up 30 percent, said she’s empathetic to the burden higher assessments could cause for tax bills. But she also said the assessments are in line with the housing market.
“We at some point will have to deal with the reality of the thriving market we are living in,” she said. “We’re in a market that has rebounded.”
Fries placed much of the blame for jumps in property assessments on David Fitzgibbon, the former chief appraiser who was fired last year. Last summer, Fitzgibbon told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he intended the widespread increases in values to begin this year.
“We didn’t want to go out and make a slight change (in values) since we’ll be doing some major changes over the next three years,” he said at the time.
Eaves requested empathy from board members, saying he thought the county was “at a crisis moment.” Ellis, after the board delayed their decision, called it “a blatant disregard for all taxpayers.”
“I hope they come to their senses,” he said.