Pandemic housing boom helps hold down property taxes in DeKalb

Once homeowners receive their property assessments, they have 45 days to appeal if they think the values are too high. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Caption
Once homeowners receive their property assessments, they have 45 days to appeal if they think the values are too high. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Tax revenues to increase despite tax rates remaining the same or going down

To kick off the summer, every Georgia city must discuss whether it will raise property tax rates for residents.

This can lead to bickering over budgets and tense public hearings where residents question why more money is needed. But this year, DeKalb County’s 12 cities will get a break.

None of the cities will raise their property tax rate for 2020′s property tax bills. The effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the housing market coupled with a recent boom in development means the cities will continue to rake in more tax revenue despite keeping their tax rate the same — or even lowering it.

The cities that saw the highest rate of growth in their property values were mostly in the southern portion of the county, including some cities that already have the highest property tax rates in metro Atlanta.

While increased value is good when selling a home, if a home’s assessed value rises, the owner’s tax bill rises even if the tax rate is unchanged.

Stone Mountain City Manager ChaQuias Miller-Thornton said rising property values are a double-edge sword: They give cities the means to provide more services but homeowners only see that their tax obligation is potentially growing along with their home’s value.

“I consider it a good thing for the city overall when it comes to being able to provide services and do those things that the citizens want to see done,” Miller-Thornton said. “From a citizen’s perspective, being a taxpayer myself in DeKalb County, with everything that has gone on with loss of jobs, loss of pay, loss of other kinds of income within households, then it will be considered a bad thing, specifically when you know that your personal property hasn’t had any improvements over the last year.”

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Tax bills paid by homeowners are a combination of city, county and school taxes. Municipalities set their own tax rates on top of the county’s, in order to pay for services provided by each city. Even if Dekalb’s cities hold tax rates steady, others could increase their tax rate, raising the final bill homeowners receive.

Cities with larger corporate sectors tend to rely less on property taxes, leading them to generally have lower property tax rates. Property taxes are charged based on a “millage rate,” which is the amount per $1,000 of property value that is used to calculate taxes.

Doraville Councilman Andy Yeoman said he believes cities should lower their tax rates during times of soaring home prices. He said Doraville, a 150-year-old city with lots of neighborhoods built in the 1950s, saw its housing stock’s market value explode amid the pandemic, mirroring many other places in metro Atlanta.

Sky-High House Prices
Home market values across DeKalb County went up on average, according to Zillow. However, properties in south DeKalb rose as a faster rate over the past year.
Zillow

*Zillow doesn’t limit Decatur and Stone Mountain to their city limits, instead including large portions of unincorporated DeKalb County. Zillow also has no data for Stonecrest.

“During times of housing inflation, it really should be the government’s duty to lower the effective tax rate, the millage rate,” he said, “and conversely, during times of the housing recession, you should be raising it because the value of the property is going down, but the cost to provide (government) services stay the same.”

Yeoman was among three councilmembers to vote against keeping the city’s 9.75 millage rate the same Wednesday, but it won’t change after Mayor Joseph Geierman broke the 3-3 tie. Even with an unchanged tax rate, Doraville is estimated to receive about $838,000 extra in property taxes this year, and Yeoman said he isn’t satisfied with how the city plans to use the funds.

“There’s almost a $200,000 increase in our courts, which is part of my frustration on this. I don’t think people move to our city for our overzealous court system,” he said. “... It’s really just going to the nuts and bolts of increasing our spending on services that we already provide.”

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Stone Mountain, with a population of roughly 6,300, has the highest millage rate of any DeKalb city at 20 mills. Miller-Thornton said the City Council is considering lowering their rate as low as 15 mills, but they’re still evaluating the effects that would have on the city’s budget and projects.

If they kept the rate the same, the city would reap an additional $334,000 in property taxes, according to estimates from the DeKalb County Property Appraisal & Assessment Department. Miller-Thornton said she was surprised at the new overall value of her city’s tax digest — the value of all properties in the city — adding that she’s contacted the county to see if that is correct.

“I didn’t anticipate that much of an increase,” she said.

Same Rate, More Revenue
Most DeKalb County cities are keeping their millage rates the same, but due to new construction and rising property values, they expect to bring in extra property tax revenue. Even cities that are lowering their rate expect a slight bump in revenue.
DeKalb County Property Appraisal & Assessment Department

*Clarkston and Stone Mountain advertised keeping their millage rate the same, but city leaders said they intend to lower the rate for 2021. That would lower the amount of extra property tax revenue they would collect.

Miller-Thornton said the extra funds could go toward hiring another full-time police officer and funding watershed infrastructure projects, but she anticipates the council lowering the rate to lessen the burden for residents and property owners.

“I do understand the citizens’ perspective,” she said. “We’ve watched out citizens, our business owners struggle over the last year, and my office and the council are looking for ways to kind of make this work for all involved.”

Estimates show Decatur, which has maintained a 13.9 millage rate since 2019, would collect an additional $1.7 million this year in property taxes. City Manager Andrea Arnold said 38% of that increase is due to new construction and development throughout the city, while the rest comes from revaluation of existing properties.

Dunwoody has kept its millage rate at 2.7 mills since the city was founded, and Assistant City Manager Jay Vinicki said the city’s low reliance on property taxes means no changes have been necessary up to this point.

“We just kept ours the same because it keeps up with our operational increases and our inflationary increases,” he said, adding that nearly every homeowner in the city has a freeze applied on their city taxes due to the city’s homestead exemption policy.

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Clarkston, along with Lithonia and Stonecrest, are the only DeKalb cities that have already committed to lowering their millage rates.

Mayor Beverly Burks said Clarkston’s current rate of 15.9 mills is among the highest in the county, since the city’s commercial tax base is smaller than other communities, but the drop to somewhere between 14.6 to 15 mills will help keep people’s property taxes more consistent with last year.

“We have more residential than we have commercial,” she said. “So it’s extremely important for us to be mindful of our residents, senior residents and how any increases changes what they have in terms of their disposable income.”


The DeKalb County Property Appraisal & Assessment Department accepts appeals within 45 days of receiving a revaluation. If you think your home is overvalued or undervalued, visit dekalbcountyga.gov/property-appraisal/appeal-process for more information.

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