By Bill Forrest, REALTOR
I love living in Atlanta and Fulton County most of the time. Growing up in a small rural county I have always been drawn to the bright lights of the big city. When I first moved here I was struck at how different many aspects of living here were and in most cases it was a great way of doing things. Except for property taxes and the tax digest.
When it comes to city and state revenue as voters we have a more direct control on sales tax rates through referendum at the ballot box . But when it comes to County and School funding it is soley up to our elected county leaders. After many years of reflection; the small county I grew up in Georgia had it right and Fulton County is completely dysfunctional. Let me explain how this small county did it right.
First off they had an extremely accurate tax digest of all of the properties in the county. When I say accurate the values were with-in 5% of what the property would bring on the open market. The county Tax Assessors office maintained this tax digest and if the property had not sold with-in 2 or 3 years it was accurately reassessed on an individual basis. This is the foundation for all revenue in the county.
Every year mid year, the County Commission came up with the budget for the following year. Like any business they knew what most all of their costs were going to be and how much revenue they were going to require to function for the coming year plus how much in reserve to have as a buffer to handle unexpected challenges. Once having decided on this budget with public discussion, the commissioners then would set the millage rate for the coming year. This was a simple mathematically formula taking the required revenue as a factor of the total value of the counties accurate tax digest. The school board would follow suit and set their millage rate as well using a similar process. Once set the tax assessors office would then compile the tax bills and collect the taxes.
It was not uncommon for the millage rate to change annually. Of course we had exemptions for churches, charities, and for senior citizens. The taxes that a property owner paid were fair and just. Big discussions with public input did take place over the budget and what the millage rate should be set at for the next fiscal year. Because of this there was great accountability by the elected officials and most property owners were very happy to pay their true fair share.
In Fulton County this process is completely dysfunctional. Our beloved Fulton County Commission expects that the property assessments change to reflect the needs of the budget not the millage rate. This is absolutely backwards and downright crazy. As a REALTOR I can tell you that the assessed value of a property in Fulton County never accurately reflects market value. This is very wrong in that market dictates property values not the government. This travesty probably stems from commissioners in the past wanting to pass the buck saying that they have no control of property taxes, when they truly should have absolute control over the process.
Further, I know we are a large county but that is no excuse for using a Zillow type algorithm to asses values for all of the properties in a neighborhood. This is what has created our current dust-up over property taxes resulting in the ‘Fulton will freeze property values‘ article today in the AJC. Freezing property values is not the answer. The AJC is right with the quote “this is just kicking the can down the road.” We need to have real property tax reform and get Fulton County back to being accountable to its citizen property owners. I would fully expect reforms to also address issues surrounding the compensation of our Tax Commissioner as well.
I believe now is a great time for Property Tax Reform in Fulton County.
For those of you that are grammar hawks I know that there are huge grammatical flaws in my writing style. I am an excellent REALTOR with a strong proven record…. I do not hold myself out to be a great writer….lol… All the Best, Bill
Bill is an award winning Broker, Team Leader, and REALTOR at Common Ground Real Estate a Division of PalmerHouse Properties. See his full bio at www.BillForrest.com
He can be reached at 404-353-9233 or Bill@BillForrest.com