Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann voted against the county’s 10.2-mill tax rate, saying residents were hurting. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

With 40,000 property tax appeals, Fulton can’t submit tax digest

Fulton County cannot legally submit its 2018 tax digest to the state because nearly 40,000 people filed appeals that contend the county erroneously appraised their homes and businesses.

Since the appeals in Fulton County represent more than 8 percent of the value of the tax digest, and 8 percent of parcels, the county has to go to court to ask a judge’s approval to collect property taxes.

The county was in the same position in 2007 and 2008, when the number of appeals and the value they represented also prohibited the county from filing its tax digest, said Sharon Whitmore, Fulton’s chief financial officer.

VIDEO: Previous coverage of this issue

Justin Wilfon attended the meeting in Fulton County.

Last year, so the county would have money to operate, a judge granted a temporary collection order in November after the state Department of Revenue rejected county commissioners’ decision to freeze property values at 2016 levels. The county is still waiting for permanent approval of the 2017 tax digest.

Commissioners voted Wednesday to again apply for a temporary collection order in the hopes that tax bills can be sent by early September. They also approved a 10.2-mill tax rate for the year along party lines, in a 4-3 vote, with Democrats winning the vote. The rate represents a 6 percent tax increase, though it is lower than the 2017 rate of 10.38 mills.

“We’re trying to move forward as expeditiously as possible,” said Whitmore. “What we don’t want is a repeat of the due date falling into the next fiscal year. I think we’re still OK.”

Of the 39,878 appeals that were submitted, the majority — about 37,000 — were residential appeals. But the majority of the $19.7 billion in values that was appealed — $12 billion — represented commercial property. The appealed values are 27 percent of the total $72.1 billion tax digest.

In a public hearing earlier in the day, several residents expressed concern about their tax burdens. One said it seemed “astounding” that property values could go up as much as they did. Another said residents across his neighborhood had been hurt by value increases.

“They’re upset, a significant portion of our citizens,” said Vice Chairman Bob Ellis, a Republican who voted against tax rate set by the county.

Dwight Robinson, chief appraiser in Fulton County, speaks to residents. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The county had advertised a tax rate no higher than the current rate of 10.38 mills, and made it clear that they did not intend to generate a windfall when they set the actual tax rate. In June, Whitmore said the county might be able to reduce the tax rate to 9.62 mills, a rate that would be considered revenue neutral. The county needed to bring in $478 million from property taxes, regardless of the number of appeals.

But the 10.2-mill rate is expected to bring in $489.2 million, if 94 percent of residents and businesses pay their taxes on time. The additional money will go to the county’s savings.

“I’ll be really angry if this board has lied to the public,” said Commissioner Lee Morris, a Republican, who said he would not vote for anything that generated more money than the county needed to meet its obligations.

Commissioner Marvin Arrington, a Democrat who proposed approving the higher rate, said he wanted more money to be available to provide relief to the public defender’s office, and others in the criminal justice system.

“We cannot allow the politics of the moment to keep us from thinking clearly about what the community wants from us,” said Commissioner Emma Darnell, a Democrat. “They want some books in the library.”