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