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Atlanta school board delays vote on tax rate

A mistake by Atlanta Public Schools means residents will have two more chances to bring property tax concerns to the school board before the board votes to set a tax rate on Aug. 6.

The school district announced Saturday that it failed to give proper legal notice regarding the Monday, July 23, meeting, when the board was supposed to hold a final public hearing and then vote on the millage rate. Homeowners are watching the decision closely as they brace for higher tax bills amid climbing property value assessments.

The district postponed the vote after discovering that its finance team “inadvertently” failed to include a notice of the proposed tax increase in the required advertising for Monday’s public hearing and meeting.

The school board still plans to hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday, July 23, but it will add another hearing and then vote on the tax rate during a 6:30 p.m. Aug. 6 meeting at the district’s headquarters, 130 Trinity Ave. S.W.

The background:

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When residents complained last year about soaring Fulton County property values, the county responded by freezing residential assessments at 2016 levels. This year, many homeowners saw a big hike in their assessments, which likely will mean a bigger tax bill. (Ninety percent of the school district’s local tax revenue comes from Fulton County. DeKalb County generates 10 percent.) The Fulton County Board of Assessors’ preliminary numbers showed about a third of Atlanta homeowners could see values go up by 50 percent this year, while the median increase was reported to be 33 percent. APS officials have said the “unusual growth rate” for assessments come after a decade of Fulton County failing to keep up with rising property values.

The budget:

The Atlanta school board approved an $818 million general fund budget in June that was based on maintaining the same millage rate, 21.74 mills, the district has had since 2012. That budget anticipated about $597 million in local revenue, up about $52 million from last year’s budget.

But then updated Fulton County tax information indicated district stood to collect more, nearly $635 million, with the current millage rate.

Now, school administrators are recommending dropping the property tax rate by 1 mill, to 20.74, which would provide about $607 million in local revenue. APS officials have said that plan will allow the district to put about $11.7 million into its fund balance, pay for salary increases and cover mandatory costs increases such as retirement payments while still providing some relief to tax payers.

The tax rate:

Even though the recommendation is to lower the tax rate it’s considered a tax increase of 8.23 percent. That’s because the proposed 1-mill reduction doesn’t roll back the APS millage rate all the way to 19.163-mills, the level that would completely offset increases from reassessments and reevaluations.

The property tax increase would cost the owner of a $300,000 home about $142.

Some homeowners have asked the school board to lower the tax rate even more. They have expressed concern for how senior citizens and lower-income residents will be able to pay their tax bills and keep their homes.

What’s next:

In November, residents will vote on a proposal to increase the base homestead exemption linked to the Atlanta school portion of their taxes. Residents currently are exempt from paying school taxes on the first $30,000 of assessed value. The new measure would increase that exemption to $50,000, but all homeowners would begin to pay taxes on the first $10,000 in value. (A homeowner with an assessed value of up to $60,000 would pay taxes on $10,000.) If approved, it would be applied to next year’s tax bills, but it would expire in three years.

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