Fulton County asks state to approve rejected 2017 tax digest as-is

5:10 p.m Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 Local
Fulton County Attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker is all smiles after Judge Alan Harvey approved the county’s request to collect tax money. Now, Perkins-Hooker is asking the state to approve the existing county tax digest. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Even though tax money is already coming in to Fulton County, the question of whether residents may be required to pay more remains.

Fulton County leaders hope they will not, and have asked the state Department of Revenue to approve the same tax digest officials there rejected last month. If they do not, residents will in many cases have to pay additional money toward 2017 property taxes.

VIDEO: Previous coverage of this issue

In a presentation to Fulton County commissioners Wednesday, the county manager and tax assessor promised full compliance with state law, more transparency and accountability in the process.

A judge in November gave the county permission to send temporary tax bills, but the state still must approve Fulton’s final tax digest. The county, which froze most residential values at 2016 levels after residents complained of higher-than-expected property assessments, said in a letter to the state that it had the right to do so.

The Nov. 28 letter from County Attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker acknowledged that the county’s move was “novel,” but urged revenue officials to allow the 2017 tax digest to move forward.

“Since your department has not made a legal conclusion with any evidence as required under the statute that the exercise of the power was wrong, this skepticism should not serve as a basis for denying the County’s 2017 Tax Digest,” the letter said.

William Gaston, a spokesperson for the Department of Revenue, said he had no comment on the county’s letter.

Nearly a quarter of homeowners in the county received assessments that were up 50 percent or more. Half of the county’s nearly 320,000 parcels saw assessments that were at least 20 percent higher.

Assessments jumped because the county had not kept up with rising property values in recent years as the region recovered from the Great Recession.

If the Department of Revenue requires the county to use its original values, residents could have to pay more 2017 property taxes in 2018. Additionally, the county cannot move forward with 2018 assessments and bills until it has state approval for 2017’s digest.

“Ultimately, it all needs to be wrapped up,” Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson said.

Anderson said the county and the state are having conversations about the property tax issue, and he hopes they will come to an agreement in early in 2018. The county has not yet received a response to its letter.

“If the 2017 digest is not approved, how do we deal with 2018?” Anderson asked. “It may rest in the courts. Our hope is there would be a compromise. We felt like we had a legal basis for what the Board of Commissioners did.”

The county is taking steps to ensure that next year’s tax digest doesn’t have the same issues this year’s did, and will improve the assessment process next year and in 2019. They will review properties where value increases are greater than 50 percent to ensure that the homes they are comparing them to are in fact similar, and that they have the right home characteristics. The county is hiring more people to handle customer service complaints from residents, and will do a better job of communicating to residents their options for exemptions and appeals. An improved website will also give residents more information about their individual assessments.

“It deals with what really drove the Board of Commissioners to intervene,” Anderson said.


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