State revenue head said she never gave Fulton County OK on tax plan

5:29 p.m Monday, Nov. 6, 2017 Local
Fulton County Commission Chairman John H. Eaves was among the county officials in attendance. In Fulton County court, DeKalb Judge Alan Harvey agreed to allow Fulton County to collect tax money after a plea from Fulton County Attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker. The decision affects the cash flow of two school systems, 15 cities and Fulton County government. It stems from commissioners’ decision to freeze property taxes when values rose. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

The state revenue commissioner said Monday that it wasn’t up to her to give Fulton County leaders permission to freeze property assessments at 2016 levels when residents complained their new values were too high.

“The state has no authority to intervene in the development of the tax digest until it’s presented to us,” said Lynne Riley, the commissioner of the state department of revenue. “Fulton County’s responsible for the development of their digest.”

Fulton leader’s had said they were in touch with Riley’s department as they took the unusual step of keeping residential property values, in most cases, at the same level they were a year ago. Commercial property values were not frozen, and in many cases increased.

Riley said she did talk to county representatives, who in September asked for an extension of the normal deadline for filing the tax digest. Still, she said, “we only opine on the digest presented to us.”

Former Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves and Bob Ellis, the vice chairman of the commission, have said repeatedly that they had been in touch with members of the revenue department about their plan for property values. Eaves said last week that he never got a “formal” opinion from the state about the proposal, but that the county “never got a red light.”

Eaves, a Democrat who resigned to run for mayor of Atlanta, accused Riley, a Republican former member of the Fulton Commission, of playing politics in rejecting the digest. She declined to respond to the accusation.

Ellis said Friday it was “unfortunate” that the state did not tell Fulton earlier that its digest would not go through.

“I’m disappointed in the communication,” he said. “I felt like we’d been in dialogue with them throughout the process.”

In a statement Monday, a spokesperson for the county said members of Fulton leadership “have been in regular communication with the Department of Revenue.”

“Fulton County’s leadership remains committed to working with and continuing dialogue to address” concerns, the statement said.

Late last month, the revenue department rejected Fulton County’s tax digest, saying it was full of errors — including a discrepancy between the assessed values of residential and commercial properties, Riley said.

Both the rejection and the county’s decision to freeze values delayed property tax bills. That stalled the collection of tax revenue for the county, two school districts and 15 cities, as well as a number of community improvement districts. Schools expect to furlough some employees and the county plans to tighten its own expenditures to ensure it has enough money to pay its bills.

On Friday, a judge granted a temporary collection order to allow the county to send tax bills at the frozen 2016 values. That will allow them to collect property tax revenue in order to keep governments functioning while the disagreement with the state continues. The bills are scheduled to go out Nov. 15, and will be due Dec. 31 in Atlanta and Jan. 15 in the rest of Fulton County.

Riley said she is willing to “assist in whatever ways we can” as the county works toward getting its values in order.

“I’m optimistic the challenges can be addressed,” she said.

Nearly half a billion dollars is at stake.
View full experience