Fulton County has two years to fix property tax assessments, court ruling states

By David Pendered

The court ruling in December that upheld Fulton County’s tax bills for 2017 highlighted a number of chronic issues that plague the county’s property tax assessments. The county has two years to fix known problems, as state law compels the state revenue commissioner to review the county’s digest in 2019.

English Avenue, houses

The taxes levied on all property in Fulton County, including these homes in Atlanta’s English Avenue neighborhood, have been set by under conditional approval from the state because the state revenue commissioner has rejected Fulton’s tax digest since at least 2010. Credit: David Pendered

The county’s digest hasn’t passed muster since before 2010, according to the court ruling. That means Fulton’s digest hasn’t met the state requirement that no more than 10 percent of parcels fail to meet required valuations.

The revenue commissioner rejected Fulton’s tax digest in 2010, 2013, 2016, and again in 2017, according to the ruling. The revenue commissioner authorized Fulton to collect taxes in the intervening period for the 2010 through 2016 digests under the commissioner’s conditional approval of the tax digest.

DeKalb County Senior Magistrate Judge Alan Harvey issued a ruling Dec. 13, 2018 that compels the state revenue commissioner to accept the 2017 tax digest submitted by Fulton County. Harvey served as a visiting judge designated to consider the matter as it was pending before Fulton County Superior Court.

State Revenue Commissioner Lynnette Riley had rejected the 2017 digest. Riley contended that Fulton’s Board of Commissioners did not have legal authority to order the Board of Tax Assessors to rescind its initial 2017 assessments and issue corrected notices of assessments in August 2017.

Riley served as a Fulton County commissioner from 2004 to 2010 before serving in the state House from 2011 to 2014. Riley resigned from the Legislature in 2014 to accept an appointment as revenue commissioner by then Gov. Nathan Deal.

Alan Harvey

Alan Harvey

The court ruling strongly indicates that no one involved in the lawsuit is satisfied with the performance of Fulton County’s Board of Tax Assessors. The board is charged with creating a countywide tax digest comprised of the taxable value of all properties in the county – residential, agricultural, commercial, industrial and utility.

As the judge wrote in his ruling in the lawsuit that involved the county, tax assessors’ board and state revenue commissioner:

  • “There appears to be a lot of work to be done by the parties to this case, both individually and cooperatively, as to future tax digests but that is beyond the scope of the matter before this Court.”

The judge evidently expects the Board of Commissioners and tax assessors’ board to resolve the problems. No one else can help, he observed in the ruling:

  • “[T]he Revenue Commissioner lacks standing to assert claims against Fulton County regarding how Fulton County should assess real property within the county, and this court is without legal authority to declare past acts as proper or improper via declaratory judgment.”
Lynn Riley

Lynn Riley

The clock is ticking on Fulton County’s upcoming assessments.

Under state law, the state revenue commissioner is to review Fulton County’s digest in the calendar year that begins Jan. 1, 2019. The state Constitution requires county boards of tax assessors to, “continuously maintain assessments of property that are reasonably uniform and that are based on fair market value.”

State law requires the Georgia Department of Revenue to, “periodically review the county digests to determine if the digests are in compliance with such laws.”

Harvey’s ruling observed that Fulton’s practice of collecting property taxes under conditional approval from the revenue commissioner is coming to an end:

  • “Pursuant to that conditional approval, Fulton County is required to take necessary actions to fix those identified deficiencies by its next tax digest review cycle year in 2019.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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