Atlanta, Fulton schools praise judge’s order to collect taxes 

Atlanta and Fulton County school leaders celebrated a judge’s decision today to allow Fulton County tax bills to be sent, but at least one of the districts still plans to borrow money to pay its bills while waiting for people to pay their taxes.

The two school systems joined Fulton County officials in seeking a tax-collection order from a judge to allow the county to begin collecting taxes. The county had to seek a court order before sending bills because of the high number of property value appeals that have filed.

The delays in sending bills will present cash-flow problems for the two school districts, both of whom generate about two thirds of their general fund budget from Fulton County taxes. 

The judge’s order sets the stage for tax bills to be sent out in the next few weeks. Atlanta schools taxpayers have 45 days to pay their taxes, while Fulton County school taxpayers have 60 days.

“We are already in dire straits and having to make other plans maybe for even borrowing some money in the short term,” said attorney Charles Huddleston, who represented both school districts at the hearing.  

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Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said even with the judge’s order allowing tax bills to be sent her district will proceed with plans to borrow up to $175 million to pay its expenses. She doesn’t expect the district to borrow that full amount -- which would cost APS an additional estimated $700,000 in interest and fees.

Carstarphen said she’ll recommend the school board proceed with a short-term loan and “use only as much as we need.” APS must repay the loan by the end of December.

The Atlanta district doesn’t plan to make the kind of belt-tightening moves it was forced to do last year, when tax bills also were delayed. Last year,  the Atlanta school district put some employees on furlough and postponed paying some bills.

Carstarphen said she was “super pleased” with the judge’s decision to allow the county to send tax bills. 

Fulton County Schools Superintendent Jeff Rose said his district is still deciding if it will take out a similar loan to help cover its costs while it awaits tax revenue. He said the school board will review the possibility at a Thursday meeting.

Last year, Fulton County Schools did not take out a loan but it instituted a hiring and spending freeze.

“We’re trying to avoid that,” Rose said. 

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