Ex-Fulton head John Eaves says he would freeze property values again

5:03 p.m Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 Local
Former Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said he would again freeze property assessments at 2016 levels, even given the fallout. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com AJC FILE PHOTO

The former chairman of the Fulton County commission said Wednesday that he would again freeze property taxes if he had to make the decision over again, even though it’s led to cash flow problems for local governments and the threat of furloughs at two local school districts.

“I would do the same thing,” said John Eaves, a Democrat who resigned from the county’s top government role to run for mayor of Atlanta. “I came up with a solution that a large number of people are satisfied with.”

Eaves addressed the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, saying that delays in teacher paychecks and the financial trouble Atlanta and Fulton County public schools are facing because the state rejected the county’s tax digest are the fault of the Georgia Department of Revenue.

Revenue department commissioner, Lynne Riley, is a former Republican member of the Fulton Board of Commissioners. Eaves accused her of targeting him and the county to give Fulton “a bruised eye” when her department last week questioned whether the county could keep property values artificially low while coming up with a solution for residents’ complaints of sky-high assessments.

Riley did not respond to requests for comment.

Eaves called the decision “morally reprehensible” and said the Department of Revenue had been apprised of Fulton’s plans and the county “never got a red light,” though he said there was never a “formal” opinion from the state.

Commissioners used a law from the 1880s to direct the board of assessors to rescind the original assessments and send new ones that kept property values at 2016 levels. The Department of Revenue did not receive an accounting of the county’s personal and real estate tax revenue until mid-October and rejected it last week.

“To get a decision at the last minute, at the 11th hour, is unacceptable,” Eaves said. “It reeks of politics.”

Eaves said he thought the county’s legal position was strong.

Fulton County leaders on Friday will ask a judge to issue a temporary collection order that will allow tax bills to be sent while the county works with the Department of Revenue to get its tax digest approved.

Fulton County Commission Vice Chairman Bob Ellis, a Republican who worked closely with Eaves to implement the freeze, did not address the issue at the commission meeting and ignored repeated requests for comment. In a statement sent Tuesday, he said the county’s request for a collection order shows “how critical and imperative this is for all Fulton County citizens.”

“It would be disastrous if we have to reset the button,” Eaves said. “We’re going into unprecedented territory.”

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