Emil Schultz (left), appraiser, helps Fulton County resident Marie F. Blake with her annual notice of assessment during Emergency Town Hall Meeting to discuss about Property Tax Assessments hosted by Fulton County Office of Chairman John Eaves at Harriett G. Darnell Senior Multipurpose Facility on Tuesday, June 13, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Why is my Fulton property assessment so high, and other questions

The weather is not the only thing warming up these these days. Many Fulton County property owners are hot and bothered after receiving property assessment notices that show dramatic increases to their property values.

The increases led some governments to ask the county Board of Assessors to consider rescinding the assessments, though others — most notably, Atlanta Public Schools — requested that the assessments go forward as planned. Thursday, members of the board are slated to make a decision.

Elected officials are scrambling to respond to angry taxpayers after residents started seeing new assessments.

They will meet at 12:30 p.m. at the Fulton County Government Center.

Here, we’ll tell you a little bit more about what it all means.

What is a property assessment? Why does it matter?

Let’s start with the basics. A property assessment is an estimate of the value of land.

In Fulton County, residents can see two values on their assessments: the appraised value (which is 100 percent of what Fulton County says the property is worth) and the assessed value, which is 40 percent of what Fulton County says the land is worth.

The county uses the assessed value to determine how much people pay in property taxes. Each year, the county, the school boards and the cities set a tax rate that is applied against the assessed value of property to determine the owner’s tax bill. As in other counties, Fulton has some exemptions that homeowners can apply to lower the amount of taxes they pay.

My assessment has taxes on there — and they look a lot higher than they did last year!

Not so fast. The assessment has last year’s tax rates for the county, the school district and the city you live in. Most of those (if not all, depending on where you live) haven’t decided what their rates are going to be this year.

Your actual tax bill won’t come until later this year, once those tax rates have been determined. Here’s how that works.

Cities, counties and schools are encouraged to decrease the tax rate in order to bring in the same amount of money each year from the homes and businesses that were already there. The idea is that they can bring in more money off of new construction.

So if they leave the tax rate alone, that’s considered a tax increase. They are required to have public hearings and advertise as if they’re raising taxes.

For that reason, many jurisdictions will reduce their tax rates, though some have already said they intend to leave theirs the same.

Even if the rates go down, it’s possible that your taxes will go up. Especially if your property values are dramatically higher.

Dramatically? Yeah — my property value’s a lot higher. Why is that?

In Fulton County, half of all values are up by 20 percent or more over last year. Nearly a quarter are at least 50 percent higher. The county’s chief appraiser and members of the Board of Assessors have said they need to increase so much because the county didn’t keep up with rising values in recent years.

In other words, Chief Appraiser Dwight Robinson said, the large increases now make up for the fact that values weren’t increasing at the same rate the market was in recent years.

Yes, not keeping up is a problem. Fulton may be fined by the state for failing to raise property values when the market rose. The current chief appraiser said he can’t say why his predecessor made the decision he did. In the past, that predecessor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he knew large value increases were going to come, beginning this year, and he didn’t want to make huge adjustments before then.

But that decision could mean a much higher tax bill. What am I supposed to do?

Well, you can always pay your higher tax bill. What? That isn’t the answer you were looking for?

At their meeting Thursday, members of the Board of Assessors will consider a request from Fulton County commissioners and members of Atlanta’s city council to rescind the property assessments and keep the assessments at 2016 levels. That would help in the short term, but it would likely mean that the increases are even higher next year.

Residents can also appeal their assessments, if they think that their home isn’t worth what the county says it is. If they are successful, the values are frozen for the year they appeal and the two following years.

I did that. My values still went up.

The assessors said they raised the values on about 1,800 residents who are in that three-year period when they should still be frozen. There are almost 318,000 residential parcels in the county.

The county can unfreeze a property if the owner improved it — finished a basement, for example, or added another bedroom. But it has to inspect the property to do that.

Robinson, the chief appraiser, also proposed that the county might be able to unfreeze values in areas that experience large increases in property values. County attorneys are looking into the idea.

In the meantime, members of the Board of Assessors have told residents who believe their values should still be frozen to call the board.

I think I need to appeal. How do I do that?

First: There’s a deadline. You have until July 10 to turn your appeal in.

You can appeal online by going to https://www.qpublic.net/ga/fulton/appeals.html. There, there are instructions for online and by-mail appeals.

>> Stay tuned to our subscriber site myAJC.com to follow the board’s decision.

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The AJC's Arielle Kass keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Fulton County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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