Fulton County releases tax abatement data, says incentives bring jobs

United Parcel Service driver Richard Trzcinski, right, goes over ORION, the automated computer system that devises optimal routes for its drivers, with fellow driver Daniel Petranck. A UPS facility in South Fulton was one of 56 projects that received property tax abatements. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
United Parcel Service driver Richard Trzcinski, right, goes over ORION, the automated computer system that devises optimal routes for its drivers, with fellow driver Daniel Petranck. A UPS facility in South Fulton was one of 56 projects that received property tax abatements. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Fulton County has released information about its property tax abatement programs in 2016 that shows the benefits outweigh the costs.

The report covers all active benefits in 2016, looking at tax abatements that began over the past 10 years. Recipients pay a greater percentage of property tax each year for a decade on their abated properties, until after 10 years they are paying the full property tax.

The head of Fulton’s development authority told county commissioners Wednesday that the county had a liability of $6 million in tax abatements in 2016.

That’s $6 million in property tax that could have been collected if the companies on those properties had been paying 100 percent of the taxes they would have owed.

Even with the giveaway, though, that land brought in $11.2 million in property taxes in 2016 — money the county would not have gotten, leaders contend, if not for the deals. That new revenue exceeds the cost of the tax breaks.

The figures were prepared by Ernst & Young in response to a new reporting requirement.

Tax abatements are a government program that eliminates or significantly reduces property taxes as an incentive for growth. In Fulton, the county has a standard abatement that reduces property taxes by 25 percent over a decade. They start with a 50 percent discount in the first year that is reduced by 5 percentage points annually until the company is paying full freight in year 10.

Critics say the incentives are unnecessary tax giveaways, and question whether they’re fair to people and businesses that have to pay full tax bills. But proponents say they help bring new development to areas that might need extra help.

"Tax abatements are an economic development tool," Fulton County manager Dick Anderson said.

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The county’s calculations look back at all active deals in 2016 — those that are in the first year of abatement and those in the last. They don’t include any deals that were made where construction hasn’t begun yet.

All told, there were 56 deals in that period, said Al Nash, the CEO of Select Fulton, the county’s development arm.

“Our job is to grow the tax base,” Nash said. “A lot of deals we’re doing are new dollars that never would have hit.”

The county also said over 10 years, the businesses that received tax abatements brought 30,165 full and part-time jobs to the county. Of those, about 27,000 were new jobs, and the rest were jobs that might have left the area if not for the incentives.

It also listed the industries that are collecting abatements. They are office buildings, data centers, apartments, retail and restaurants, hotels, warehouses, manufacturing facilities and parking facilities.

The county hopes to use the analysis to strengthen its incentive process and ensure that the deals it makes are a proper use of economic development dollars, Anderson said. He said the development authority, the tax assessor's office and the Fulton chief financial officer all have to sign off before a deal is made.

“People have choices,” Nash said. “We want to help when we can to drive these choices.”

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"I had to look at it two or three times before I believed it."