Flawed Fulton assessment notices show taxes skyrocketing

Some homeowners opening envelopes from the Fulton County assessors office have been shocked to read they'll owe thousands of dollars more in taxes this year, even though their home values dropped or stayed the same.

It's a computing flaw printed on assessment notices mailed last week, and it appears to be confined to Atlanta, Fulton Chief Appraiser Burt Manning said Saturday.

"I almost fell out of my chair," said Ernie Tharpe, whose home near Piedmont Hospital dropped in appraised value from $375,000 to $349,000, while his estimated taxes leaped from about $5,500 to $8,500. "Obviously, it's a mistake. At least I hope it is."

Paul Burks' Virginia-Highland home remains valued at just under $500,000, but his notice says this year's city and county taxes will be almost $13,500. Last year, he paid $7,500. "It's pretty frightening," he said.

Manning said a computer program that was supposed to tally estimated city and county taxes into a grand total flubbed up somehow, possibly by double-calculating a subtotal. Otherwise, the notices are correct.

Depending on how many people are affected by the error, Manning said, the county might send them a single sheet with a corrected tax total.

"At this stage, I just don't know how widespread it is," he said.

A 2010 state law that went into effect this year requires counties to send assessment notices to all property owners, even if values stay the same, a change expected to result in masses of appeals. The notices must include estimated tax bills based on last year's millage rates.

Attorney Carl Crowley, who handles tax appeals, said he's heard complaints from clients and he has his own problem with an Atlanta rental property -- its estimated taxes going from $5,200 to $8,600 even though the fair market value is still $297,300.

He and others who contacted The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said they've sat down with calculators and tried to figure out where the error lies, but nothing makes sense.

"I can't figure out how they messed it up," said Charlie Hyatt, whose notice said taxes on her Virginia-Highland home will jump from $4,300 to $7,300. "But messed it up they did."

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