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Fulton County Needs Court Approval to Collect Taxes

by Paul Miller, Atlanta, August 2018

 

Fulton County, Georgia faces major issues to collect property taxes again this year. Due to a huge number of appeals, the county must get court approval before it can issue tax bills. Meanwhile, a Fulton County Commissioner charges the vote to approve the tax rate was illegal.

 

Huge Number of Appeals

 

An estimated 42,686 appeals are currently pending in Fulton County representing $5.9 billion in property value. More than 37,000 of the appeals are residential but the majority of the value in dispute involves commercial property.

 

The number of appeals is 11.58% of the total parcels and the value is 8.25% of the total digest. Since the number of appeals and the value of the appeals each exceed 8%, the county needs Superior Court approval to send tax bills. A hearing is scheduled for later this month.

 

This is the second year in a row that the county has been required to get court approval. Last year, a judge allowed Fulton and other governmental entities to begin collecting taxes under a similar order after the state Department of Revenue rejected the county's tax digest. Officials voted to freeze residential property values at the previous year's levels in response to homeowners' complaints but the department questioned the legality of the move. The 2017 tax digest still has not been approved.

 

Tax Rate Controversy

 

The vice chairman of the Fulton County Commission wants the board to reconsider what he claims was an illegal vote to set the tax rate at 10.2 mills. Bob Ellis said leaders promised taxpayers they would not collect any more money than needed to fund services this year. The rate that was approved is higher than necessary, he said, and should not stand.

 

Georgia law requires that a rollback millage rate must be computed that will produce the same total revenue on the current year's digest that last year's millage rate would have produced had no reassessments occurred. Since the budget proposed by the County Commission requires a millage rate that's higher than the rollback rate, it was required to hold three public hearings before setting the final rate.

 

Commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the 10.2 mill rate as part of a five-year plan that would lead to decreases in the years ahead. Ellis said the rate wasn't presented to the public until after public hearings had ended. Had the county advertised that it intended to raise more money than needed, more people would have attended the public hearings and voiced their opposition, he said. Ellis is calling for another vote or more public hearings.

 

A spokesman for the state attorney's office said he thought the vote was legal and consistent with what had been advertised.