Fulton declares state of emergency post-Irma, discusses property taxes

Fulton County commissioners declared a state of emergency Wednesday, clearing the way to access federal funds to help pay for cleanup after Tropical Storm Irma.

The declaration covers the county and all 15 cities, and will allow the governments to request reimbursement for money spent clearing trees, as well as allow for coordination with state and federal governments.

Atlanta and Sandy Springs, where a man was killed in his home by a falling tree, saw the most damage, said Matthew Kallmyer, director of the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency.

The resolution, which passed unanimously, allows the agency to activate its emergency operations plan to seek assistance to protect public health, preserve public safety, minimize damage to property and ensure the economic benefit of the impacted area.

Some roads were still closed Wednesday due to downed trees, and traffic lights remained nonfunctional at some intersections.

Commissioners also discussed changes to its property tax system, which came under fire this year when property values skyrocketed, after years of assessments that were too low. Commissioners decided earlier this year to freeze most residential values at 2016 levels for 2017.

Commissioner Marvin Arrington said that decision was “myopic” and county leaders would have to contend with the issue again next year. The county could have reduced the tax rate, he said, instead of reducing values.

There are a number of ideas for what leaders might do to fix some issues, which Vice Chairman Bob Ellis said call into question the function of the government.

Proposals that would freeze school taxes for seniors or cap value increases in gentrifying neighborhoods would have to go through the state legislature for approval, but commissioners said there are some steps they could take to improve the system.

An update to the Board of Assessors’ web site and individual, county email addresses for county appraisers would go a long way toward increasing transparency, Ellis said. He also suggested the board do a better job of explaining increases and of ensuring that similar properties were used when properties were appraised.

Liz Hausmann, a north Fulton commissioner, suggested that taxing people on their property value, instead of on the size of their homes, was unfair — especially when some county residents pay no property taxes at all, but still use county services.

“The whole system is broken,” she said.

The disagreement is often philosophical, with Commissioner Lee Morris, who represents Buckhead, noting neighbors often move to Cobb County when they get older to avoid paying taxes on the schools, which Cobb does not charge seniors.

“There’s nothing I can say or do that will be adequate for those who don’t want to pay taxes,” said Commissioner Emma Darnell, who represents south Fulton. “In America, taxes are based on value.”

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