I have just returned from the Fulton County Property Tax Meeting this evening hosted by Bob Ellis. This meeting was called to explain the assessment process and give the citizens of Fulton County an opportunity to be heard from the Board of Assessor’s office and the Fulton County Chief Appraiser.
The meeting was supposed to start at 6:30pm, but there were so many people in attendance, they couldn’t start until nearly 7 o’clock and many people had to leave because there was not enough room for everyone. Here is the gist of the meeting as it unfolded.
Bob Ellis started by explaining that the Fulton County Board of Assessors is the entity that sets the assessed values and not the Tax Commissioner’s office. He also mentioned that the Assessment Value we have all just received is not a tax bill. The estimated tax on the bill is based on last year’s millage rates; this year’s millage rates have not been set yet. Mr. Ellis says he has asked the Board of Assessor’s to rescind this year’s assessments and take some time to review their process and data. The Board of Assessors is meeting next Thursday, June 15 at 12:30pm at 235 Peachtree Center to discuss this topic.
He went on to explain why there was an increase this year. In essence, there was an outside study that revealed that in general, Fulton county properties were undervalued by 11-12%. This report caused the Board of Assessors office to look at property values across the county. The chief appraiser said that they took a sampling of sales in generalized areas throughout the county and came up with a median sales value for the different areas and applied some kind of formula to all of the properties in these areas. He insisted that throughout the entire county, the average homeowner experienced an increase in assessed value of about 13%. However, he did admit that 14% of homeowners in Fulton County experienced assessed values of 75% or greater over the prior year. Homeowners in attendance were asked to raise their hands if their assessed value had increased greater than the 13% average and nearly everyone raised their hand…demonstrating that the majority of North Fulton residents experienced greater than the average increase that the Board of Assessor’s office is reporting.
Bob Ellis said this increase in assessed values will likely not result in a winfall for the government. He mentioned that the budget has already been set for this year and it was based on the revenue that was collected last year, with the assumption their property tax revenues would remain fairly constant. If the Board of Assessors refuses to rescind the new assessed values, the government entities have the option of rolling back the millage rate so that taxes will not be greatly affected by the increase in property values. Matt Kunz, Milton City Council Member, said the City of Milton has already had discussions about rolling back the millage rate in Milton if the values remain at the new assessed rates. However, time is of the essence, and the county, city and school boards will be meeting soon to set the millage rates, so they need a quick resolution of this issue so they can figure out what the millage rates need to be for this year.
Bob Ellis took this time to make a “Call to Action” for Fulton County Homeowners. He said we all need to contact our legislators and insist that they put Property Tax Reform on the table for next year’s legislative session. He says we must insist that Property Tax Increases on a yearly basis be capped at a certain percentage. Currently there is no cap on how much the government can increase our assessed values/property taxes. So take note and start making those calls and sending those emails!!!
Finally the residents of Fulton County were invited to address the Chief Appraiser and Board of Assessors officials. Here are several stories that are all very thought provoking:
- There was a woman who was a firefighter living in a Habitat For Humanity neighborhood. Her value went up 100% over last year and she cannot afford her tax bill. No one in her neighborhood makes a lot of money and they are all in jeopardy of not being able to afford their property taxes this year.
- One woman had her house appraised for a refinance 2 months ago and her Fulton County assessed value for this year was $85,000 higher than her appraisal, which demonstrates the county’s process for determining values for tax purposes isn’t accurate.
- There were several retired people who had lived in Alpharetta for 30-50 years in the same house! They all said they can no longer afford their property taxes on their fixed incomes and they were strongly advocating that Fulton County offer senior citizen school tax exemptions like most other counties so they can afford to remain in their homes.
- There was a gentleman who said he owned a house with 30 acres on Hopewell Rd in Milton and said his property taxes were $800,000 in 2012, went up to $1.2M in 2015 and his new assessment has his value at just under $2M. The county was assigning most of these increases to the land value and he said his wife is pressuring him to sell to a developer so they can move to a more affordable county where they can live on acreage and have their horses. He knows Milton residents don’t want people like him selling to developers but he feels the county is forcing large tract landowners into this scenario because of the high tax basis being placed on the land.
- Another woman questioned the Assessor’s office on how they expect homeowners to come up with several thousand dollars in 90 days and said this was unjust. The gentleman after her agreed and continued by saying both he and his wife work, they are trying to raise 2 small children and he didn’t appreciate that the burden was placed on him and his family to contest the vast increase to his assessed value.
- Many people questioned how the Board of Assessor’s office was going to be able to handle the sheer volume of appeals that are going to be filed. Everyone in the building raised their hand indicating they would be filing an appeal. This is one the reasons Bob Ellis is urging the BOA to rescind these increases. One woman said she filed an appeal in 2015 that is still pending, so she wondered how they would ever be able to handle thousands of appeals over the next 30-60 days.
- Another gentleman suggested that a house is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it and proposed that homes should only be reassessed when they sell. These arbitrary increases will always create cause for appeals.
- Others raised questions regarding the validity of the assessed value numbers as there are homeowners who live in the same neighborhood, have similar homes on similar lots and values are vastly different (one person lived in a townhome community where they were all very similar in size, however assessed values ranged from $400,000 to $900,000 for virtually the same townhome!)
- Several people also mentioned this assessment debacle is just another disaster that highlights why North Fulton needs to pull away from Fulton County and become Milton County.
There were countless stories, over and over, of homeowners who cannot afford their new property tax bill and homeowners who are furious about the huge increase in one year (most people in the room experienced increases of 20-100% this year). I had to leave before the meeting ended, but here were my takeaways:
- We need to contact our legislators regarding Property Tax Reform (imposing caps) for next year’s legislative session
- Bob Ellis is fighting for us and working hard to do everything in his power to get the Board of Assessors to consider rescinding these assessments.
- Even if the Board of Assessors refused to rescind the assessments, the county, school boards and cities should roll back the millage rates so our actual tax bills won’t increase too much (although homeowners who experienced huge increases will still see their taxes increase).
- We are all in this together and there are a lot of homeowners who are fighting this fight—stay tuned, the Board of Assessors is meeting next Thursday.
- If you want to go ahead and file an appeal, here is a link to the Fulton County website with instructions: http://www.qpublic.net/ga/fulton/appeals.html Appeals have to be filed by the date on your Assessment (mine has a date of July 3).
I will continue to follow this issue and will keep you all posted!