Will Atlanta taxpayers see higher school tax bills?

Atlanta school district officials had hoped that rising property values would mean the school district could collect more than $20 million more from taxpayers this year without raising the district’s tax rate.

But with Fulton County commissioners’ decision Wednesday to freeze property values this year, school district leaders are facing some hard choices.

The Atlanta school board will meet Thursday to discuss budget, tax assessment and tax collection issues.

Atlanta Public Schools was counting on an assessment increase of about 6 percent this year. That would allow the school district to keep the same tax rate as last year, but collect about $24 million more from local taxpayers.

But Fulton County property assessments rose sharply this year in part because the county neglected to keep up with rising valuations in past years. Most homeowners saw double-digit percentage value increases. Outraged homeowners pressed county officials for relief. In response, the county froze their property values.

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Homeowners will receive new property assessments in the mail, but probably not until August.

That leaves Atlanta Public Schools, which gets the biggest piece of local property tax payments, in a difficult position.

The school board could raise its tax rate, which has stayed the same since 2008.

The board could cut spending, but cutting too deep could leave programs officials believe are critical to children’s success in jeopardy. The district has limited options for cutting costs, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has said. Those options could include furlough days, reinstating austerity cuts to schools or freezing hiring of teachers, leaving classroom vacancies for start of school year.

And delays by the county in sending out tax bills could mean the district would receive money collected later than expected, potentially forcing the district to take out loans to cover the gap or fail to meet state requirements for repaying short-term loans. 

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