Fulton: Tax notices will be late because Atlanta delays setting millage 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

All of Fulton County’s city and public school systems need to prepare for another disrupting financial ripple effect, county officials said Wednesday.

Instead of going out at the end of August, tax notices will be sent weeks late because Atlanta has delayed setting its millage rate, Fulton’s chief financial officer Sharon Whitmore said during a commission meeting.

“That sort of a decision has an impact not only on us but an impact on schools systems, all the other municipalities,” said Fulton Commissioner Bob Ellis.

The millage rate determines how much property owners pay in taxes each year — that amount sets off an orchestrated chain of events to determine the annual budgets for all cities, counties and school systems. That has already been complicated by the coronavirus ravaging revenues.

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The city of Atlanta did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said he would tell commissioners “offline” why there was a delay. “I won’t say it publicly.”

Whitmore said Fulton’s tax commissioner Arthur Ferdinand told her Friday about the Atlanta delay. Ferdinand did not immediately respond to an interview request Wednesday.

Whitmore said that notices may go out in early October, meaning payment would be due in December. But if this goes any later, payments could easily stretch in January 2021.

She said that is reminiscent of Fulton’s 2017 tax drama that ended two years later with the state and the county having to sign a deal to end multiple lawsuits.

Whitmore said a due date in December, or later, also likely means a lower rate collection not only because of the drastic change but the uncertain economic conditions.

Commissioner Liz Hausmann expressed frustration over the delay.

“I can’t think of anything worthwhile for jeopardizing the financial health of the school systems in our county and every other city in our county,” Hausmann said.

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She added: “I think we need to convey that to the city of Atlanta, that they’re holding everybody back.”

Fulton is a complicated patchwork of cities old and new, mixed with school systems that have their own elected officials.

Hausmann said Fulton needs to tell the cities and schools immediately about this so they can plan. Pitts agreed to do so.

“Hopefully Atlanta will recognize that it’s not just their needs that are important, it’s everybody’s needs. Because we are in one county,” Hausmann said. “I think it’s amazing to me that it seems like everybody forgets that we are connected in this county, whether we like it or not.”

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