Opinion: A Sterling tax plan for Fulton homeowners

The anger of Fulton homeowners largely dissipated after county commissioners froze property assessments at 2016 levels. But it’s clear that was a temporary solution that can’t be repeated every year.

Conveniently, there’s an election right now for Fulton’s commission chairman. One candidate has a solid plan to ensure Fulton homeowners don’t see a repeat of what would have happened absent the freeze, with more than half of them facing an increase of at least 20 percent and almost a quarter facing an increase of at least 50 percent.

“Even if 10 percent of those (higher assessments) are wrong, that would mean there were hundreds of thousands that were close to being correct,” says Gabriel Sterling, one of three candidates for chairman. “This freeze really is kicking the can to the next tax year. If we don’t get some protections in place this legislative cycle, we won’t have them in place for this catch-up year Fulton County’s doing” in 2018.

Sterling’s plan is largely modeled after the law for Sandy Springs, where he has served as a councilman since 2011. Assessments for homeowners could only rise by 3 percent or the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is lower. But unlike in Sandy Springs, the increase would only be from one year to the next, and couldn’t be calculated cumulatively over a period of years.

The cap wouldn’t apply to commercial or rental property, or to homes that have been renovated or expanded in a way that required a permit. But it would help homeowners who simply don’t want to be priced out of their homes because of a red-hot real estate market.

“The amount of money you make is the amount of money you make, for most people,” Sterling said. “That’s why homeowners need protection. That’s especially true for the gentrifying areas of the cities. If you bought a house in 1985 for $40,000, and all of a sudden your assessment goes up to $450,000, there is no way you can adjust your lifestyle to make up for that difference.”

His bottom line: “No one should have to sell their house because they can’t pay their property taxes.”

Many politicians are hesitant to cap property values because — let’s be honest — soaring assessments are a backdoor source of more tax revenue. Some hide behind the rollback, which provides for a cut in the millage rate equal to the average increase in assessments. But that’s insufficient in many cases.

“It’s great on its face,” Sterling said. “But some people got a 5 percent decrease (in their assessments). Some people got a 20 percent increase. And some people got a 100 percent increase. So if the millage-rate rollback is 12 percent, the guy who got a 5 percent decrease gets a huge tax cut. But the guy who got a 100 percent increase, that (12 percent rollback) is not really helping.”

The idea would be to apply this principle to all three parts of a property-tax bill: county taxes, city taxes and school taxes. That’s what truly separates the plan from the status quo. Sterling thinks it would take local legislation at the General Assembly for each municipality involved, and recognizes it could be an uphill battle in some cases. “But after the outrage we had over those property-tax increases,” he said, “we may be able to get that done.”

Giving Sterling a chance to get it done is well worth a vote for him.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: The king and queen of cruelty

You just can’t construct prisons for babies. You can’t rip children from mothers and fathers. You can’t use the power of the U.S. government to institute and oversee a program of state-sponsored child abuse. You can’t have a system where the process and possibility of reunification is murky and maybe futile. You can’t...
Opinion: But her emails? You’re dang right her emails.

When the Justice Department inspector general’s report revealed that former FBI director James B. Comey had used a personal email account to conduct official business, Hillary Clinton claimed vindication. “But my emails,” she tweeted. Yes, Madam Secretary, your emails. In fact, the overlooked bombshell of the report is the inspector...
Opinion: Assessing trauma’s role in chronic stress, suicide

The alarming increase in suicide rates in the United States over the past two decades is unprecedented and beyond disturbing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just released research reporting “suicide increased by 25 percent across the United States from 1999 to 2016 and a shocking 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide...

Liberal left hypocritical in support of separated kids Those on the liberal left are claiming to be upset with the policy of separating some illegal alien children from their illegal alien parents. They wail it is not the fault of these poor children, so they should be released into our country along with their parents. Over 90 percent of those released...
Opinion: Trump and the invasion of the West

“It is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart,” says former first lady Laura Bush of the Trump administration policy of “zero tolerance,” under which the children of illegal migrants are being detained apart from their parents. “We need to be … a country that governs with a heart,” says first lady Melania...
More Stories