August 14, 2018 Atlanta - Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools (left), and attorney Charles Huddleston pose in front of Judge Alan Harvey (background) after ruling to allow Fulton County to collect tax money on Tuesday, August 14, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Fulton County tax bills to be sent next month, after judge’s ruling

Fulton County can start collecting property taxes, a judge ruled Tuesday, despite thousands of pending property value appeals.

Because so many appeals have been filed — more than 42,000 — the county can’t legally submit its 2018 tax digest to the state. But Tuesday’s decision means Fulton County cities, school districts and other taxing entities will have money to operate while working to reduce the number of appeals filed by those who say the county erroneously appraised their homes and businesses.

The delay in mailing tax bills will still cause cash-flow problems requiring at least one school system to borrow millions of dollars. Tax bills should be sent to Fulton County property owners in the next few weeks.

VIDEO: Previous coverage of this issue

Fulton County leaders are arguing the vote was illegal.

“It was expected; it was the right thing to do,” Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said of DeKalb County Judge Alan C. Harvey’s ruling. “It took him less than one minute to get a favorable decision for us.”

Harvey, who was tasked with approving Fulton’s tax collection plans for the second year in a row, said he found sufficient evidence that the county and its jurisdictions would be harmed if tax bills were not sent.

“We’re already in dire straits,” said Charles Huddleston, an attorney for both the Atlanta and Fulton County public schools. “We’re here with our hats off, asking your honor to provide relief.”

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen cheered the judge’s decision but said her district will proceed with plans to borrow up to $175 million to cover expenses and pay employees while it waits to receive taxes. Borrowing the full $175 million would cost the district an estimated $700,000 in fees and interest. Carstarphen said the district will only borrow “as much as we need.”

August 14, 2018 Atlanta - Robb Pitts (left), Chairman of Fulton County Board of Commissioners, celebrates with Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, and Jeff Rose (right), superintendent of Fulton County Schools after Judge Alan Harvey ruled to allow Fulton County to collect tax money on Tuesday, August 14, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This will be the third year in a row that APS has had to get a loan because Fulton County has not sent tax bills on time. But the district will be able to avoid the more drastic measures — such as employee furloughs — that it implemented last year.

Officials at Fulton County Schools are deciding if the district will take out a similar loan. Superintendent Jeff Rose expects to update the school board Thursday. Last year, the district froze spending and hiring while it waited for tax money.

“We’re trying to avoid that,” Rose said.

The county was forced to ask for a judge’s intervention this year because property value appeals represented 11.58 percent of the total parcels, and the value is 8.25 percent of the total digest. Because the number of appeals and the value of those appeals each exceed 8 percent of the total tax digest, the county needed court approval to send its tax bills.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.