Fulton County considering taxes, gentrification, state funding ahead of legislative sessionFulton County's Board of Commissioners is seeking one lobbying firm to advocate for the county at the state Capitol and before Congress. Credit: Kelly Jordan
By Maggie Lee
Fulton County looks likely to ask the state to give it the right to dig into the records of companies appeal commercial property tax assessments.
That’s one of the big asks so far on the Fulton County Commission’s draft “legislative agenda:” The list of things it’s going to ask the state Legislature to do — or not do — next year.
Undervaluations of commercial properties in built-up parts of Atlanta have come up in two official reviews and any amount of news coverage over the past few years.
It’s perfectly legal to appeal valuations, and all kinds of property owners do.
But costly lawyers and real estate experts are a relative bargain for the owner of a Downtown skyscraper with a property tax bill in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, versus the value for a small homeowner. And such professionals are successful.
So, the county folks overseeing appeals are outgunned by professionals bringing in heaps of legally cherry-picked paperwork to back up requests for lower property taxes.
But Fulton’s draft list would have commercial property owners also bring in documents that are not now required: income and expenses at the building and recent private appraisals. The county would also ban parcels with frozen values being used as comps.
It’s harder to value a skyscraper than a single home on a street full of similar dwellings. So the county would want those documents to tray get a real understanding of what a large, unusual building is worth.
Elsewhere on the draft legislative agenda, Fulton is looking for a new definition of “residential transitional property:” that is, a tweak that would legally describe gentrification — and thus open up a path to maybe giving a lower property tax assessment to longtime residents of gentrifying neighborhoods.
“That is, not only in parts of Atlanta but in other parts of Fulton County, we’re beginning to see that as well,” said said Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez, Fulton County’s Director of External Affairs, presenting the draft to the Commission last week.
The draft language asks for this definition of “residential transitional property: an “unrenovated home [that] is affected by a change in conditions such as a neighborhood where at least one-third of the homes have undergone new construction and substantial renovation, and the neighborhood is experiencing revitalization in the areas of desirability and price point.”
So if your street is getting filled up with fancy new homes or renovations, your plain little house might be taxed at something lower than fair market value.
The county is also likely to ask for some kind of legislation further regulating ethylene oxide, the cancer-causing chemical that’s emitted from some medical sterilization facilities, like one in unincorporated south Fulton and one in Smyrna. At least one state lawmaker is already working on a draft bill.
There are also draft items that are related to budgets: Fulton is urging state funding for transit and more funding for behavioral health and substance abuse prevention.
Georgia has not consistently spent much on transit. The main transit line item in the state budget is the roughly $12 million annually for the agency that operates metro Atlanta’s Xpress buses. And in 2018, the state approved a $100 million bond for bus lanes on Ga. 400.
Instead, metro Atlanta transit funding comes mainly from the federal government or from metro Atlanta city and county sales taxes. Any number of transit advocates would like to see the state cough up some more money.
The state does pay for some behavioral health substance abuse prevention and recovery programs; and public health is one of Fulton’s responsibilities.
However, Gov. Brian Kemp has asked state agencies to draft budgets reflecting 6% cuts for the year that will begin in July. If carried out, those cuts could mean less money for public health and mean that it’s not the year for another big transit bond.
Fulton County commissioners are set to consider the legislative agenda as early as their Nov. 20 meeting, and the final list may be different from the draft.
The annual session of the Georgia Legislature begins in January.