By Maggie Lee
While Fulton County works to try and value properties correctly for taxes, there’s a wide expectation that those envelopes from the tax assessor at some time will hold painfully higher assessments for many, as the county is forced to catch up with a hot real estate market.
With that in mind, some Atlanta state lawmakers are working on a fix to phase in any pain slowly and help protect residents with a bigger homestead exemption, but also force the Fulton County tax assessor’s office to value properties correctly and stop getting in trouble with the state for poor assessments.
State Sen. Jennifer Jordan, D-Atlanta, said there’s going to be “sticker shock” when correct property tax assessments arrive.
But at the same time, as long as the philosophy is that property taxes should reflect real property values, the rises have to find their way into tax bills some time. Yet that will mean bigger bills, which will be especially painful for longtime residents of gentrifying neighborhoods who might struggle to find the means to afford their own homes.
“We keep getting back to that we need an accurate [tax] digest. … It’s very difficult to do anything when the homes are not appropriately assessed,” Jordan said Friday. “Until we get that correct, we have a real issue doing anything on either end: tax relief on one end, or dealing with affordable housing on the other end.”
She and other Atlanta lawmakers from both the Senate and House who have been working together discussed their idea to try and help improve all of that, on Friday at a regular meeting.
Jordan plans to file a bill as soon as next week with co-signers that would set up a public vote on several things in the city of Atlanta:
- – Keep property assessments at 2016 levels plus a 3-percent rise every year until Fulton County gets a state-approved digest. That cap isn’t ideal for the city and the school system — which will give them an extra incentive to pressure Fulton more to get in compliance with state law on property valuations. It also protects taxpayers from spikes in values in the meantime. (House Bill 820 by state Rep. Beth Beskin, R-Atlanta, proposes something similar for the whole county and so far has gotten a House committee approval.)
- Once a digest is approved, higher tax bills will be phased in in steps for five years. For example, if a home were valued 20 percent higher between 2016 and a new correct digest, the actual bill would rise in steps: 4 percent more the first year, 8 percent more the next year and so on. That’s to help counter “sticker shock” and give people more time to get their personal budgets ready for paying more.
- Once a digest is approved, the homestead exemption would also rise in steps by $4,000 per year for five years, for a total $20,000 more in homestead exemptions.
Once the bill is filed, hearings could be scheduled as early as this month.