- Arielle Kass The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
One of the three candidates for the top job in Fulton County government owes more than $24,000 in back taxes on two properties she owns.
Keisha Waites, who is running for chair of the Fulton County Commission, said she paid off the taxes on a third property, the home she lives in, earlier this year. She said she has appealed the taxes on the other two properties, but Fulton County’s chief appraiser said he has no record of any appeal since 2011.
“It’s not something I’m running away from or I’m hiding,” Waites said of the money she owes.
The homes, on Casplan Street in Atlanta, are valued at $24,800 and $26,400. The value on each has been the same since 2014, said Dwight Robinson, Fulton’s chief appraiser.
Waites said the homes are rental properties, and the rents do not cover the taxes she owes. She said she had a repayment agreement on some of the properties, and “there were times when I was unable to pay them.” An employee in the tax commissioner’s office confirmed that Waites had defaulted on payment plans on two Casplan Street homes. She owns three properties on that street.
Though more than a third of them have been settled, nearly 100 liens were issued on Waites’ properties for unpaid taxes and sanitation bills between 2005 and 2017, according to court records. Waites said there was a period of time when the bills were not coming to her. She also said that she inherited property on Casplan Street that had delinquent tax bills when she took it over.
Waites, who works as a contractor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the homes have been up for sale on several occasions. She called herself a small business owner, and said like many small business owners, she has good years and bad years.
It makes her better able to understand the issues that county residents are dealing with as they face hardships from rising property values, she said. Fulton County commissioners decided earlier this year to freeze property values for 2017 at 2016 levels after hearing complaints from residents who felt their values were rising astronomically.
William Perry, the founder of Georgia Ethics Watchdog, said he generally thinks that part-time elected officials reflect society. That includes the occasional lien, he said, because residents sometimes forget to pay their bills, or choose to pay off one debt at the expense of another.
But a lien here and there is not the same as a series of them, Perry said.
“When it gets to be repetitive, or multiple liens, that’s being irresponsible,” Perry said. “If you can’t handle your own situation, how in the world can you handle a whole county budget? It sounds like she’s not being responsible.”
Perry said it’s something voters should consider when making their selection. Waites is one of three people running to lead Fulton County government. The other two candidates are Robb Pitts and Gabriel Sterling. Neither has liens on his property, and both of their taxes appear to be up-to-date, according to county records.
Early voting has already begun. Election day is Nov. 7.
Lewis Regenstein, who lives in Atlanta, said he understands Waites’ frustration with the process of appealing property values in Fulton.
But he said he trusts Waites’ judgment less after learning she’s behind paying her taxes.
“You want to have a public official who can manage their own financial affairs,” he said. “There’s no shortage of officials who has not been great at managing the public’s money.”
Waites, who was a state representative until she resigned in September to seek the chair’s office, said she was proud of legislation she passed and her record of working across the aisle. She said she hopes to find a permanent solution to the issue of rising property values, which sometimes make it difficult for people to pay taxes on their homes.
She said she is still making payments on the homes. Waites owes $12,481.64 on one property, and $11,628.02 on another according to Fulton County records. That does not include 2017 taxes, which have not yet been sent. She owes $545.04 on a third property, but the taxes on her main residence are up-to-date.
“The lion’s share is paid,” Waites said. “I’m fighting like hell to hold on to them. …I’ve knocked down the taxes on my personal home. I’m working on these others.”
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