Let’s have an honest conversation about property tax assessments

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This year, unfortunately, thousands of residents have experienced unbelievable spikes in their property valuations, some as high as 50 percent to 100 percent increases.

People are furious.

That’s why over the past few weeks, I’ve led efforts to freeze current tax assessments at 2016 levels. My office launched a series of emergency town hall meetings to gain public comment so that the Fulton Board of Assessors – the independent body that has the authority to freeze assessments – and its chief appraiser could hear from residents directly.

Ahead of the vote by the Board of Assessors on my tax-freeze plan at the Thursday, June 15, meeting, I initiated a petition requesting emergency action that has received nearly 1,000 signatures.

The response from citizens has been overwhelmingly clear: This issue may significantly change the course of our city if not addressed immediately and comprehensively.

Aside from the tactical responses of appealing, freezing or reappraising assessments for property owners, a long-term solution will require an honest – and harder – look at who we are as a metropolitan city.

Fulton County has the role of assessing property values (Board of Assessors) and collecting taxes (Tax Commissioner).

The final tax bill is based on what the city council and mayor, and the school board members set property owners’ annual millage (property tax) rate.

The county also sets a millage rate for countywide services such as criminal justice and libraries and the Health Department.

But at Fulton County we usually adopt a revenue-neutral millage rate to offset high property assessment valuations.

Purposefully, the county’s millage rate has remained relatively low and consistent. And it’s lower than Cobb and Gwinnett counties’.

Why gentrification changes the face of communities

The growth of any neighborhood or community brings with it new residential developments, renovation of older properties and transplanting of new home owners.

These things drive up property values – but at what cost? Regardless of whether I was at a town hall meeting in Buckhead, Midtown or Southwest Atlanta, residents had the same sentiments: these rising assessments bring a personal financial crisis.

This is not a racial issue and, to some extent, it is not even an income disparity issue.

What saddens me is that the group most affected by these changes are our senior citizens. Most are on fixed incomes, and significant increases in property values can have a crippling effect on their ability to remain financially secure in their homes.

My fear is that many may eventually lose their homes in the communities they have loved and nurtured for decades. This is morally unacceptable.

Further, while new development within cities aims to create safer, walkable and accessible communities, rising real estate prices can also prevent younger people and families from moving into these same neighborhoods.

Everyone is concerned about the impact of gentrification on their communities.

I am proposing that community leaders examine a more comprehensive approach to urban planning and community development decision-making, one that considers the economic benefits as well as the human impact.

Assessment process designed with checks and balances

I have taken the charge to stay involved and to remain active. We must take a more comprehensive approach to governance, reducing taxes on every level without compromising the quality of services we provide.

We need to provide innovative exemptions, and find solutions to gentrification for our seniors and younger families who are seeking to make Atlanta and Fulton County their home.

As public officials, we all have a moral duty to represent and protect them.

The assessment-appeal deadline has been extended to July 10, 2017. I am, along with Fulton County Commission Vice Chair Bob Ellis, working hard to place a freeze on current assessments.

I appreciate everyone who has shared their voice in recent weeks. Fulton County residents love this community and want to remain in the area, but the impact of rising millage rates, gentrification and residential development is making this a challenge.


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