A judge ruled Nov. 3 that Fulton County can begin collecting property taxes, which Fulton had been unable to after the state Department of Revenue rejected the tax digest.
The state rejected the tax digest last week, saying it is “questionable” whether the Fulton County Board of Assessors had the legal authority to freeze the property assessments at 2016 values, which the Board of Commissioners voted to do after residents expressed concern and anger over assessment increases.
The state’s rejection of the tax digest meant the county could not send out bills based on the appraisals submitted. DeKalb County Judge Alan Harvey ruled to give the county a Temporary Collection Order, which will allow it to send out tax bills as it works with the state to correct the tax digest, according to a press release from the Fulton County School District. The court hearing was held in DeKalb County to ensure neutrality.
“Fulton County is pleased with Judge Harvey’s ruling today,” a press release from the Fulton County government said. “The outsized increases in the original assessments were so large that a disproportionate number of homeowners would have seen dramatic increases in property taxes and placed many in a precarious financial position.”
Tax bills will be sent Nov. 15 and be based on the assessments that were sent out after the values were frozen at 2016 levels, said Renee Starzyk, the director of communications for Board of Commissioner Vice Chairman Bob Ellis. Atlanta residents have 45 days to pay the bill, and residents in the rest of Fulton County have 60 days.
“Our immediate focus now turns to the issuance and collection of tax bills,” the statement from Fulton County said.
The state cited several other problems with the tax digest other than questioning the commissioner’s legal authority to freeze assessments, including that commercial properties were stilled taxed at 2017 levels while residential properties were not. The state also said that it believes not all residents’ appeals were counted because the first round of appeals were considered “null and void” after the second assessment notices were mailed. The assessed value of residential properties was also not high enough, the state said.
Fulton County will still have to work with the state to create an acceptable tax digest. The Temporary Collection Order allows the county to collect taxes in the meantime. It is unclear what changes the county will have to make to the digest and what the changes could mean for the taxes residents ultimately end up paying.
“This ruling allows us to breathe a little easier, but there is still a long road ahead,” Fulton County School District Superintendent Jeff Rose said in a release.
Fulton County, Atlanta Public Schools and the Fulton County School District jointly challenged the rejection in court in the hope of receiving the order. Both school districts receive more than 60 percent of their funding from property taxes.
The delay in receiving tax revenue will still force APS to furlough some non-teaching employees, according to a press release. APS will also delay the one-time $500 payment to non-teaching employees and halt new hiring, the release said.
“All of us at Atlanta Public Schools are pleased by today’s court ruling which begins the process of collecting the property tax revenues that are so critical to the safe and successful operation of our school system,” said Meria Carstarphen, the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent. “At the same time, the initial delay in tax collections will still have a significant impact on our ability to operate as normal for the remainder of this calendar year.”
The Fulton County School District has halted new hires and new spending for the rest of the year, according to a release. School field trips paid for with district money are on hold while it creates a process to limit the cost, the release said.