Several Fulton, Atlanta tax relief bills will go to voters in November

Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Joel Carstarphen. The district said it expects to lose $25 million a year over three years if a new property tax relief measure is passed. (CASEY SYKES, AJC FILE PHOTO)
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Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Joel Carstarphen. The district said it expects to lose $25 million a year over three years if a new property tax relief measure is passed. (CASEY SYKES, AJC FILE PHOTO)

In the final minutes of this year's legislative session, Georgia lawmakers passed a measure that could lower the property taxes Atlanta homeowners pay to support schools.

But another proposal that would have further exempted seniors from paying school taxes didn’t make it to a vote before the midnight deadline.

Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, sponsored SB 485 and SB 486, the two measures aimed at reducing the Atlanta Public Schools’ portion of the tax bill. The one that passed, SB 485, increases the base homestead exemption for APS from $30,000 to $50,000 until 2021. If the governor signs the bill, it will go before voters in November.

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Some residents who have previously paid nothing in school property taxes, because the $30,000 exemption covered the value of their homes, could have to pay. Homeowners are now responsible for taxes on at least $10,000 in property value, meaning those who didn’t pay before could see $217 tax bills (under the current tax rate) if they don’t qualify for other income-based exemptions. Homeowners whose properties are valued up to $60,000 will pay property taxes on only the first $10,000.

The Atlanta Board of Education estimated the homestead exemption would cost the school system $25 million annually for each of the three years it’s in place.

Earlier in the session, bills that limit assessed values from going up more than 3 percent each year, regardless of the actual increase in property values on a home, passed for Alpharetta, Mountain Park, Milton, Johns Creek and Roswell, and for the Fulton County Schools. Sandy Springs and Fulton County already have similar provisions.

A bill that would have given residents in the new city of South Fulton the same option to reduce their taxes didn’t make the cut.

The rush to provide property tax discounts in the county came after Fulton County residents were shocked last year by high property assessments. Half of all residential properties had values that increased by 20 percent or more in 2017 because homes had been severely undervalued before, county officials said. Fulton County leaders froze values at the previous year's levels in response to the outcry.

All the measures that passed the legislature, though, must be approved by voters in November. This year's property assessments will be sent before that vote, and are likely to be as high as 2017's original values, if not higher.

Another measure, HB 820, targeted the city of Atlanta portion of the tax bill. Like the bills for the Fulton County Schools and the north Fulton cities, it would provide a homestead exemption on city taxes that limits assessed values from going up more than 2.6 percent each year.

Its sponsor, Rep. Beth Beskin, R-Atlanta, had originally proposed legislation that would require the county to keep its values consistent — and low — until the state Department of Revenue approved Fulton’s tax digest. (It was rejected last year.)

Beskin said she changed the focus of the bill after talking to revenue commissioner Lynne Riley. Riley had “legitimate concerns” about its constitutionality.

“I had a conversation with her and changed my legislative course,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Revenue said he could not immediately comment on Riley’s concerns.

If signed by the governor, a number of bills passed this legislative session would let Fulton County residents vote on measures that could reduce their property taxes. Those bills could affect city property taxes in Atlanta, Alpharetta, Mountain Park, Milton, Johns Creek and Roswell. They could also reduce property taxes paid to Fulton County Schools and Atlanta Public Schools. All the bills would be voted on in November.