Senator John Albers (from right), R - Roswell, Rep. Chuck Martin, R - Alpharetta, House Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones, R - Milton, and Senator Fran Millar, R - Atlanta, at a press conference on the final passage of legislation addressing Fulton County tax exemptions. Though the state and county are making changes, the system will not be fixed this year. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Fulton County property tax system won’t be fixed in 2018; values rise

Fulton County leaders are taking steps to fix their broken property tax system, but most of the changes will still be in the works when property assessments are sent this spring.

The county is working to streamline its system, to eliminate errors and reduce the time it takes to find them when they occur. At the same time, state lawmakers are working to cut property taxes for residents, and have proposed increased exemptions for seniors and caps that would limit property tax increases for people who live in their homes.

Still, in 2018, home values — and therefore property taxes — are likely to rise for most residents. In some cases, they will be up dramatically.

VIDEO: Previous coverage on 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.

Dwight Robinson, the chief appraiser, said 61,000 condos and single-family homes will see their property values increase 50 percent or more. Some of those, he said, are still valued lower than they were before the recession.

“You can shoot me if you want, but you’re going to be shooting the messenger,” Robinson said.

The county froze residential values in most cases for 2017. So in 2018, Robinson said, residents should expect their values to be even higher than they were in assessment notices that went out before that freeze. Local governments can adjust tax rates to help reduce how much residents pay in property taxes.

The large increases came, in part, because Fulton County failed to keep up with rising property values. Robert Friess, an Accenture managing director who looked at the county’s process, said there were a number of holdups and errors that contributed to those problems over the years. For example, he said, it can sometimes take months for a deed to be transferred when a property has been sold. That delays the new owner’s ability to apply for homestead exemptions, and can mean a holdup of the appeals process.

“It’s a very manual process in the county, which makes it very prone to errors,” he said.

Delays and errors with deed transfers, County Manager Dick Anderson said, are “infecting” other things throughout the process.

“This whole thing — the entire process — is burdened by the inability to do things efficiently,” he said. “It creates an inordinate amount of appeals. It’s just a compounding effect.”

Anderson said property owners won’t see the full benefits of their efforts in 2018. Friess said there are some changes that can be implemented quickly, though others — like allowing people to file for homestead exemptions online instead of via mail or email — could take longer.

“Everything will not be fixed before the release of the assessments,” Anderson said. “It is multi-year in nature.”

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