State halts property tax collection in Fulton County

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Homeowners in Fulton County once again are asking lots of questions after the state stepped in to halt the collection of property taxes.

The Georgia Department of Revenue has rejected what is called the county’s “tax digest,” which must be approved by the state before property tax collections can occur.

At Atlanta's Ansley Park and other Fulton County communities, many homeowners have renewed questions and angst about their property taxes.

“It seems like a pretty basic thing,” said Homeowner Jeremy Fare. “To be able to assess the property tell you what you owe.”

He and hundreds of others thought the tax issue had been settled when the Fulton County Board of Commissioners recently froze property values at 2016 levels using an 1880's law.

It followed a community outcry after 2017 taxes dramatically rose for hundreds. But the Georgia Department of Revenue told the county its tax digest did not comply with state revenue codes, saying assessments were 'improperly issued' and 'appeared to be deficient'.

Former Fulton County Chairman John Eaves, now a private citizen running for Atlanta Mayor, guided the county through the process.

“It's potentially putting city government budgets as well as school system budgets and community improvement district budgets in peril,” said Eaves.

He said 15 cities including Atlanta, Sandy Springs and others, two school districts and 15 community improvement districts are all dependent on taxes being collected on time.

Eaves said a judge will hear the case next Friday to determine if Fulton County can collect the property taxes on time or at a later date.

“It is absolutely crucial for this decision to be made on behalf of the county. I just think it would be catastrophic [if it doesn’t go the county’s way]," said Eaves.

The former chairman said the county, school districts, cities, and others could have to revert to bridge loans to temporarily fund budgets.

The chief financial officer of Fulton County Schools said "The situation is dire. The district now has a cashflow problem. We are trying to determine how the district will operate without the anticipated tax revenue, and we may need to borrow money to make our payroll and pay our bills."

Jeremy Fare wishes it would end soon.

“They can't get their act together enough to get the taxes billed and collected. It's having a big effect on a lot of people,” said Fare.

A statement from Fulton County read: “A temporary collection order will also allow the other taxing jurisdictions within Fulton County that conduct their own property tax billing to move forward with the issuance of property tax bills.   The hearing for the Temporary Collection Order is scheduled for November 3, 2017.”