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Fulton County advertises potential for higher property taxes

Fulton County commissioners want to be clear: they’re not seeking a windfall from higher property values released this spring.

But they may be raising property taxes.

County commissioners on Wednesday agreed to advertise a tax increase and hold three public hearings, as is required by law. They’re advertising the same tax rate as 2017 — 10.38 mills — but because property values have risen, the same rate would constitute a tax increase for many residents.

Sharon Whitmore, Fulton County’s chief financial officer, said the county may be able to reduce the tax rate as low as 9.62 mills, which would be considered revenue neutral. But it all depends on how many people appeal their property values, and how much their homes are worth.

“We wanted to preserve flexibility,” Whitmore said.

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Fulton planned to bring in $478 million from property tax revenue in 2018, Whitmore said. But when residents appeal, they are only required to pay 85 percent of their tax bill while the appeal is decided. The county’s tax rate will depend on the volume of appeals.

So far, Fulton Chief Appraiser Dwight Robinson said, about 6,800 people have filed appeals. Whitmore said she expected as many as 40,000 to appeal their property values before the July 6 deadline.

If that many do, she said, the county may need to approve a higher tax rate than the revenue-neutral one in order to meet the obligations in its $1 billion budget.

“There’s been no real calculation,” Commissioner Emma Darnell said. “We don’t know what the appeals are going to be.”

Whitmore described the tax rate that would be advertised, 10.38 mills, as a ceiling. She expects commissioners to vote to set the actual rate August 1..

“We are not passing a millage rate to generate a huge windfall,” Commissioner Liz Hausmann said. “To the contrary.”

Commissioners wanted to go ahead and advertise a rate without knowing what the numbers would be in order to ensure tax bills went out in a timely manner. While they are normally sent in late summer or early fall, Fulton County didn’t sent tax bills last year until the end of December.

Commissioners also gave Whitmore permission to apply for a temporary collection order if necessary, to ensure that property taxes are collected. Last year, the county had to go to court to get such an order after the state Department of Revenue rejected Fulton’s tax digest. It still has not been approved, and another order may be required before tax bills can be sent.

Property values have risen in recent years. In 2017, property values on average increased 13 percent in the county, before commissioners voted to freeze them at 2016 levels. 2018’s residential values are an average of 11 percent higher than those original values in Atlanta, and an average of 19 percent higher in the rest of the county.

Across the county, cities and school districts are also discussing their own tax rates. Commissioner Liz Hausmann said residents concerned about the property taxes should reach out to cities and school districts as well as the county.

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