By Maggie Lee
Updated with comment from the office of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
Atlanta voters may choose to cap rises in their property tax bills, and might be asked to extend a sewer tax that was supposed to end in 2020 — if legislation endorsed by the state House gets state Senate approval.
The three Atlanta bills came up for votes in a row on Wednesday evening:
The first would set up an Atlanta referendum to limit rises in homesteaded property tax assessments to 2.6 percent a year. The cap would apply to only the city of Atlanta portion of property tax bills, not the Atlanta Public Schools part.
So, if a house occupied by its owner is valued at $100,000 in one year, its value the next year could be no higher than $102,600, for the purposes of calculating the city of Atlanta property tax bill.
It’s an answer to a grievance that city of Atlanta lawmakers often hear: rising property taxes threaten to price longtime residents out of their homes.
“Atlanta’s feeling one of the negative effects of great success, which is skyrocketing property values,” said state Rep. Beth Beskin, R-Atlanta, said presenting the amended version of her House Bill 820.
City of Atlanta lawmakers have discussed various property tax relief ideas this session, including one that would phase in steep value rises slowly, but also pair that with a growing homestead exemption.
But Atlanta lawmakers have to think of the other side of the tax equation as well: the money from property taxes funds the operation of the city and schools.
This bill’s passage was smoothed by the fact that the cap would not apply to schools.
The amended bill appeared in committee Wednesday as a replacement to a different bill by Beskin.
Beskin said the new version had the support of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
The representative gave her colleagues a letter of support from the mayor.
“The City did decide to support the legislation so that property tax owners would have predictability and fairness in their property tax bills,” said a Bottoms spokeswoman via email.
Democrat state Rep. Pat Gardner leads the Atlanta state House delegation. She, like the vast majority of lawmakers, voted for the new 820.
“We felt like we should follow the mayor’s lead,” said Gardner. “There were bills that were being held up.”
One of the Atlanta bills that passed after 820 would allow the creation of a self-taxing district along the BeltLine. A new property tax increment on commercial and multifamily residential buildings in that district would pay for the creation of that trail. The final Atlanta bill would allow a referendum to extend the one-cent municipal option sales tax that pays for Atlanta sewer modernization.
Gardner called the combination of the bills a strong statement toward affordable housing. She pointed out that late last year, the city mandated the inclusion of affordable housing units on the BeltLine.
The BeltLine has come under fire for failing to reach its affordable housing targets. In the middle of last year, halfway through its completion, it had only funded 785 affordable homes, out of the 5,600 it’s supposed to fund. Since then, the BeltLine has gotten a new leader who has promised a new tone and tenor.
The final piece, the MOST, is something Bottoms has for months said is a priority.
On the one hand, the penny is part of an 8.9 percent sales tax rate in Atlanta, the highest in the state. On the other hand, it’s a way to capture cash from people who are visiting the city or working here — and using toilets. The alternative to a sales tax might be higher bills for city property owners.
City voters first approved the penny sales tax in 2004, under a law that limited the city to three four-year renewals. The last renewal came in 2016.
The update, House Bill 929, changes the phrase “three times” to “six times.”
In January, Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook questioned the idea of pushing for a MOST when Atlantans had been promised an end to it after 2020.
“I’m not the only one who remembers that, ‘We’re done after this one,’” Shook said at a Council committee meeting.