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Plan would drop Atlanta schools property tax rate by 1-mill

Atlanta Public Schools is poised to drop its property tax rate by one mill in response to soaring Fulton County property values.

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen on Friday recommended the district lower its millage rate from 21.74 to 20.74, a proposal school board members appeared to support during a budget commission meeting. The board will hold three public hearings — likely in July— before finalizing the rate. 

The reduction must be legally advertised as an 8 percent tax hike because it doesn’t roll back the rate all the way to 19.193 mills, the level that would completely offset growth in property values from reassessments and inflation. 

District officials said lowering the millage rate by one mill would allow it to put $11.7 million into its fund balance while also helping taxpayers by forgoing most of the potential new revenue. 

Compared to keeping the tax rate at its current level, the proposed 1-mill reduction would save the owner of a $250,000 home (with an assessed value of $100,000) $70 this year. 

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The school board approved an $818 million general fund budget this month, before the district knew the full impact that rising Fulton County property assessments would have on school tax revenue. Fulton taxes make up about 90 percent of the district’s local revenue. 

The budget predicted the district would receive $597.4 million in local revenue, an estimate based on keeping the current millage rate. 

But because updated information from Fulton County showed larger than anticipated increases in property values, APS estimates it would receive about $607 million in local revenue if it lowers the tax rate by one mill. 

Homeowner have asked for tax relief after seeing much-higher property assessments and, therefore, larger estimated tax bills. 

Last year, Fulton County froze values at 2016 levels, a move that caused cash-flow problems for the school district and prompted budget cuts. 

APS officials have said this year’s assessment hikes follow years of the county failing to keep up with property values. 

“People are really, really hurting, and I think that it’s very important for us to keep that in mind,” said school board member Nancy Meister, during Friday’s meeting.  

District officials said they’re facing other financial pressures also, such as a proposal that would increase the homestead exemption in 2019 as well as some tax revenue that gets diverted to development projects within tax allocation districts instead of going to the school district.

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