City of Atlanta closer to setting property tax rate

The Fulton County Government Center was sporadically bustling in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, June 29, 2020. All visitors and employees entering the Fulton County Government Center were told to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and they had their temperature checked before entering the building in an attempt to decrease the spread of COVID-19. (REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA J

Credit: REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA J

The city of Atlanta on Wednesday moved closer to approving its property tax rate, which could avoid worsening collection delays this year.

Fulton County officials last week blamed the city officials for not setting its millage rate, which determines how much property owners pay in taxes, and feared that tax bill due dates might not be until December or January as a result. That would have caused serious ripples in budgets for the county, cities and school districts.

The best current estimate is that bills will be due Nov. 30, according to a Fulton schools official. For some, that would be six weeks later than last year, and isn’t an official date.

Fulton’s chief financial officer Sharon Whitmore on Wednesday said she didn’t know what the due date would be either, but this complicates an already scary tax collection season with COVID-19 making everything harder.

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The person who knows best is Fulton’s tax commissioner Arthur Ferdinand — who over two decades has used Georgia’s archaic laws to earn more than $490,000 a year in total compensation. Ferdinand did not respond to The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s multiple requests for comment.

A spokesman with the city of Atlanta said city officials had been waiting on Atlanta Public Schools to set its millage rate. A city council committee approved its rate Wednesday, and the full council is expected to approve it Sept. 8.

“We were ready and are ready,” Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said Tuesday. “But we need the others to come forward so we can get the bills out. And now they are being delayed. We’re delayed through no fault of our own.”

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The AJC reported last week that Fulton officials blamed the delay of tax bills on the city of Atlanta not yet approving its millage rate. Atlanta wasn’t the only in Fulton without a final rate, but it makes up a large portion of the revenue because of its size and density.

Atlanta Public Schools is ready to take a $75 million bridge loan, and Fulton County Schools is arranging up to $45 million of short-term financing in case of a delay in collections

Called tax anticipation notes, these short-term loans help school districts solve cash flow problems. If APS took out the full $75 million it is approved to borrow and repay by Dec. 31, the district would owe $750,000 in interest costs.

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