Fulton assessors say there’s nothing they can do about increased values


Thousands of Fulton County residents frustrated by high property assessments heard bad news from the Board of Assessors Thursday.

“I wanted to be clear: we do not have the authority to rescind tax notices,” said Brandi Hunter, vice chair of the Board of Assessors.

Instead, Hunter said, Fulton County residents who feel their property values are in error should file individual appeals.

The furor over high assessments has been building for weeks, after notices went out at the end of last month. 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. Local governments had pleaded with assessors to reduce the values and rescind the assessments.

Though they said there was no action they could take to reduce values wholesale, the assessors called on the Fulton County attorney to negotiate with the Georgia Department of Revenue about possible relief.

Before the meeting, Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said members of the state Department of Revenue told him they were “amenable” to compromises that could ease the burden for residents.

A statement on the department’s web site says it cannot override boards of assessors on individual assessments. A spokesperson for the state Department of Revenue could not be reached for comment about the potential negotiations late Thursday.

The county has filed suit against the Department of Revenue after it fined them for errors related to their 2013 assessments. Dillon Fries, a member of the board of assessors, said those settlement negotiations could result in help for taxpayers.

“We’re trying to roll into the settlement some relief,” he said.

Fries said he could not expand on what the negotiations involved.

Afterwards, Eaves said he was disappointed that the board of assessors hadn’t made a stronger statement, but called the negotiations “a slight glimmer of hope.” He said he is cautiously optimistic that a solution can be reached.

County, city officials demand a remedy

Legislative fixes are also on the table.

Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, has called a meeting of the Georgia Senate State & Local Government Operations Committee next week to discuss the issue. The full Fulton County delegation is invited to attend.

Thursday, Albers said it was time to find solutions.

“If you don’t fix this, I will,” Albers told the board of assessors, to applause. “We cannot cause harm to the very people we’re sworn to protect.”

In addition to Albers, Atlanta City Council member Yolanda Adrean and Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood addressed the board, asking them to reconsider. Members of the Atlanta, Milton and Johns Creek city councils sent letters to assessors urging them to rescind the values. And five of the six members of the Fulton County commission came for the meeting.

“This is not political theater,” Fulton County Commission Vice Chairman Bob Ellis said. “This is grave and this is real.”

The group did take some steps that could spell relief for some residents.

After meeting in closed session, members of the board directed staff to reinstate frozen property values for about 1,800 residents who had appealed, yet still saw their values increase.

They also called on employees to review neighborhoods where gentrification is an issue, and to review other potential areas where there could be errors. Dwight Robinson, the chief appraiser, said there were several neighborhoods — including in East Point, College Park and Milton — where values would be reviewed.

But their decision not to freeze values at 2016 levels was met with shouts of “Shame on you” from the crowd, which early in the three-plus hour meeting numbered more than 100. Members of the state, county and local governments had pleaded with board members to take back property assessments they said were full of errors, including huge jumps that would cause hardships for residents when tax bills came out.

Too little, too late for some?

Residents tried every trick in the book to convince board members that they should freeze values at 2016 levels, before the spike in values.

Some pleaded. Some bullied. Some even turned to religion.

“I don’t remember Jesus ever telling his followers to sock it to the poor,” said Barbara Antonoplos, an Old Fourth Word resident who said a decision not to reconsider would “wreak havoc” on her diverse community.

Others held up their own high assessments as proof that something must have gone wrong.

Gary Cox, who lives near the federal prison in south Atlanta, said there is no way his house — which was valued at $108,000 last year — is now worth the $269,000 the county says it is. There are five boarded-up houses on his street, he said.

“I think this fight goes to the state legislature,” he said. “Something is wrong.”

Members of the board of assessors acknowledged that values were high, but said that was the result of an improving housing market. In years past, the county had not kept up with rising values, they said.

“We hear their concerns,” Hunter said. “You have to be almost inhumane to listen to taxpayer after taxpayer and not take it personally.”

Courtney English, the chair of the Board of Education at Atlanta Public Schools, said he hopes for a compromise that allows residents to afford their tax bills, while still providing for the needs of students. That board had asked the assessments not be repealed, but English said the school board intends to reduce its tax rate to help reduce the burden on homeowners.

For some people, like Sherwood Forest resident Jim Paschke, that might be too little, too late.

“IT people are mobile. They can do their work in other great cities,” he said. “We’ve talked it through already. We could live in Miami.”

——————————————————————————————

KEY TAKEAWAYS

The Fulton County Board of Assessors met Thursday to consider freezing property values at 2016 levels after weeks of complaints that they were too high.

WHAT HAPPENED: They said they do not have the authority to rescind property assessments.

WHAT COMES NEXT: The board of assessors asked the Fulton County attorney to negotiate a possible settlement with the Department of Revenue that could provide some relief. Additionally, a legislative committee meeting scheduled for Monday could provide solutions.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: If you’re unhappy with your property assessment, appeal before July 10. See the Fulton Assessors’ website at https://www.qpublic.net/ga/fulton/appeals.html for details.

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