Fulton County's Chief Appraiser David Fitzgibbon (left) answers questions from residents during a town hall meeting about property assessments at the Johns Creek Environmental Campus in Alpharetta on Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

Property tax changes, fixes ahead

For the past two years, I have worked with attorney Walter Hotz (appeals@boetaxappeals.com) to level the playing field for homeowners and businesses when they appeal their property tax valuations.

Commissioners in Gwinnett, Fulton, DeKalb and other counties need to remember the property tax bill is the largest obligation many of their constituents face. We want to make sure the provisions outlined below are followed in all counties, not just those in metro Atlanta.

House Bill 202 became law July 1. Let me summarize the improvements we made:

Effective Jan. 1, a taxpayer can request certain information on how a Board of Tax Assessors arrived at a new assessment value. There are now penalties if the board does not respond or responds with less than candid information within 10 business days.

A tax assessor representative must meet with the taxpayer at the taxpayer’s request within 30 days; there are monetary penalties if the assessor fails to comply. Also, the taxpayer can record the interview.

Taxpayers should put in their opinion of the assessed value when they appeal. If the tax assessor fails to do certain things, the taxpayer’s opinion becomes the assessed value.

If the taxpayer submits an appraisal performed by a licensed appraiser, and it was done nine months prior to the date of assessment, the tax assessor has 45 days to state whether the value is accepted, or give the reasons why it is being rejected.

If the taxpayer is appealing more than one property, the taxpayer can consolidate all the appeals into one.

Now — and this is the most significant benefit for the property owner — a taxpayer may ask that the county disclose the evidence it will use against the taxpayer in the tax appeal hearing. This must be provided at least seven days before the hearing.

Three negatives in the bill (not from us, also effective Jan. 1) require the taxpayer to attend the appeal hearing, or submit evidence in writing, in order to freeze the tax value of a home or business for three years. But filing a subsequent appeal during the freeze “unfreezes” the freeze. Finally, the freeze is lifted if the county makes a record-keeping error regarding the description or characterization of the property during the freeze.

There are three big issues I plan to resolve through future legislation.

First, a Board of Tax Assessors cannot change a person’s tax assessment once it is published. One county is telling its Board of Equalization — the panel you face at an appeal hearing — that it has the power to raise a taxpayer’s assessment if evidence is presented that justifies such an increase. This needs to be prohibited by statute.

Second, one county is threatening to send letters to taxpayers that if they pursue an appeal, the Board of Equalization may increase the assessment without limitation. The taxpayer would be given a notice to sign and return if they wish to withdraw their appeal. This attempt to kill appeals also needs to be prohibited by statute.

Third, we need to look at a cap on how much an assessment can increase in a given year. I am not sure what the correct percentage should be, but discussion needs to take place on this topic. Your thoughts are welcome.

State Sen. Fran Millar represents District 40, which includes parts of DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties.

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