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Georgia skyscraper owners need to open up to tax assessors, say some lawmakers

Maggie Lee
The Jackson Street Bridge at night by Kemet Alston
The Jackson Street Bridge at night by Kemet Alston

A bipartisan group of Georgia House members say property tax assessors should get more info from the owners of big commercial properties.

“Because when commercial property, particularly large commercial property, does not pay their fair share, the single family homeowners have the burden, their taxes go up,” said Atlanta Democrat state Rep. David Dreyer, author of House Bill 1038, which has signatures from both sides of the aisle.

There’s an incredible problem with commercial properties in his city being valued far below market value, Dreyer said, when he presented his bill to members of the state House Ways and Means Committee Monday.

In a review covering 2016 through 2018, Fulton County auditors found that 175 properties appraised at about $2.8 billion together sold for about $4.2 billion. That backs up earlier research about Downtown property valuation being much lower than sales prices.

And it’s laypeople on boards of equalization, not property experts, who typically hear appeals from property owners who say that their assessments ought to be lowered. (Though cases can go to court as well.)

Dreyer’s bill would would have owners of commercial properties valued at over $5 million show up to appeals with any recent independent appraisals plus documentation of the total income and expenses of the property.

James Stokes is Paulding County’s chief appraiser and president of the Georgia Association of Assessing Officials.

“Commercial real estate is a breed of its own,” Stokes said. “It does require a different skill set.”

The sales are fewer and further between than for single family homes, he said. So assessors have less data.

“So, the more information that you do have creates a better value,” Stokes said.

Dreyer’s bill also requires such big property owners to pay 100 percent of their assessed value when the appeal is underway.  Right now it can be 85 percent. Dreyer said that creates an incentive for big property owners to make appeals just to sit on the 15-point difference and collect interest on it.

Gwinnett County Chief Appraiser Stewart Oliver came to the hearing on Dreyer’s bill to speak on behalf of the assessors’ association.

Oliver said that in metro counties, about four or five percent of average homeowners have their values frozen by the appeals process.

“Meanwhile, commercial (properties) are just champing at the bit to go appeal the property,” Oliver said.

Something like 30 percent of the commercial digest is capped every year by that provision, he said, though it was put in place to protect the typical homeowner.

The House Ways and Means subcommitee that heard the bill did not vote on it Monday. Typically it takes two appearances for any bill to get a vote there.

But after a Thursday deadline which will mark day 28 of the 40-day legislative session, it becomes much more difficult for a bill to become law.

 

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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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    Future Ché March 14, 2020 5:05 pm

    This is an excellent piece of investigative reporting. Infuriating that Atlanta as, a quickly becoming a globally cosmopolitan city, is unable to adequately afford the tools that it needs to keep occupying the same rarefied air (hah ‘air’) of cities that it occupies the global stage with, because owners pf the buildings enjoy the ill-gotten gains of avoiding the taxes that tenants of their building pay to them in the form of rents.

    Even more infuriating to think that the avoidance of these taxes make the employees of the tenants, that pay their taxes, are enjoying a decreased level of social services, services that could be funded by the very taxes the building owners work to dodge.

    The most infuriating to think that the employees of the tenants of the owners of the building are being shafted by getting stagnant pay by said tenants, while getting screwed by less infrastructure development and social services, which are being cut more and more by loss of tax revenue.

    But hey, you havent truly lived until you can just embrace another fracrtal of Capitalism. Speaking of the (small) increase in our bilkage-rate of the proletariat – have you seen my new 109″ quad-plasma ray 7d T.V? Dude you havent lived when you can afford one in all 6 of your houses. Even sweeter when you can get to said house in a (pre-owned) helicopter.

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