How companies shift the cost of community services to residents through property taxes
Property taxes. That’s a hook bound to keep anyone reading. But they’re the primary funding source for community services like schools, courts, and police and fire departments. And some feel the way property taxes are calculated aren’t always fair.
The basics: The Fulton County Board of Assessors calculates property taxes for commercial and residential properties alike. For homeowners, property values have risen dramatically in recent years—leading some to lose their homes altogether. Yet some owners of more expensive properties, especially for commercial real estate, aren’t always paying their fair share. In 2018, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News investigated 264 multimillion-dollar commercial property sales. They found that nearly half of the properties sold for more than twice than the county’s appraised value.
When this appraisal number is lower than the sale price, companies pay less in taxes, and the city, Atlanta Public Schools, and Fulton County may not receive tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars they could be owed in annual property taxes. Critics say that shifts the burden to cover the cost of vital services to residents.
Last month, Documenter Sierra Williams took notes on an Atlanta City Council work session that discussed these tax assessments with the Fulton County Board of Assessors. At this meeting, Councilmember Jason Dozier brought up properties that had staggering differences between their appraised values and their market values: 725 Ponce de Leon Avenue, for example, sold for $300 million in 2021 but was appraised at only $103 million last year.
Atlanta City Council commissioned a report on this issue in 2019, which showed that part of the disparity is due to the property tax appeals process: That year, while Fulton County appraised the priciest real estate at 81 percent of fair market value, successful appeals brought those values down even further, to 68.5 percent of what they’re worth, according to the report.
At the October meeting, DeWayne Pinkney, interim chief appraiser at the Fulton County Board of Assessors, said that state-level legislative changes would be necessary to enforce most of the 2019 report’s recommendations to ease this issue in Fulton County.
Julian Bene, a vocal critic of the process and former board member of Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm, disagreed. After having closely watched this issue for years, he believes that Fulton County can meet all of the report’s recommendations—and “they don’t need the legislative changes—just need to be aggressive about it,” he said at the meeting. “Are you going to get serious or not?”
MEETINGS AROUND THE METRO
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At the last Atlanta City Council meeting, Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari sponsored a resolution to address one issue facing low-income renters. The resolution would push all housing developments that receive financial incentives or support from the city to accept housing choice vouchers (formerly called Section 8 vouchers) as a form of payment.
The federal government offers housing vouchers to low-income, elderly, or disabled residents so that they can afford a place to rent. People can wait years to get off the waiting list for a housing voucher; Atlanta’s backlog includes more than 20,000 people. But even when residents finally receive vouchers, they can struggle to find a good apartment whose landlord is willing to accept them: The AJC recently reported that more than 1,000 Georgians can’t find a place that will accept their voucher.
Georgia law restricts cities from requiring that all landlords accept vouchers as payment. So, this resolution, which limits the scope to just city-supported housing, could be an effective workaround.
NEXT UP: That resolution passed two committees this week and will be on the agenda for Monday’s council meeting.
The Forest Park City Council received an update from Clayton County Schools Superintendent Morcease J. Beasley: The county’s graduation rate is 79.6 percent, up from over 50 percent a decade ago, when the county’s school board was troubled and its system lost its accreditation in 2008. Since then, the county has been on an upward trend, though still lags behind the state graduation rate of 84 percent.
In 2011, Forest Park High School had the lowest graduation rate of any school in the district at 42.5 percent. This year, its graduation rate has surpassed 80 percent for the first time. “I’ve sat in many settings in which people would speak about the past as it relates to Clayton County Public Schools, but [do so] in the present tense,” said Forest Park Mayor Angelyne Butler. “A lot of people still cannot wrap their heads around that we have progressed, we have changed, we’ve grown, we’ve evolved into this fantastic school system.”
At the meeting, Beasley said his goal is to get Clayton Schools to 90 percent by 2026. However, yesterday, he announced that he is leaving his position, telling 11Alive, “once I get a sense that the assignment is complete . . . it’s time to move on.”
The Public Safety Commission is a temporary commission created in 2021 by Atlanta City Council, amid rising violent crime and public outcry. The group includes a wide cross-section of stakeholders appointed by the city: community leaders, city officials, police, school officials, lawyers, and members of the Policing Alternatives and Diversion (PAD) program. The group is currently tasked with creating and implementing a public safety plan.
The group never really got off the ground in 2021, but Atlanta City Council reinvigorated the group and expanded its purpose earlier this year. We sent Documenters to the last two meetings to figure out what this commission actually does. So far, we’ve learned that the commission separated into subcommittees focused on violence prevention, youth violence intervention, community engagement, and more. Commission members are figuring out what they can realistically accomplish together, and what success for the group looks like. One member stated that the commission will be together for a year to convene and share ideas but may not be able to implement any strategy in that time frame.
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- Clayton County Board of Commissioners (11/1): State transportation updates, an adult education program, and more / By Dominique Huff
- DeKalb County Board of Commissioners Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (10/18): Discussion of DeKalb’s priority transportation projects, walkability, and plans for a MARTA station update / By Naya Clark
- Atlanta Citizen Review Board (10/13): Reviewing an excessive use-of-force case involving a police officer tasing a 17-year-old / By Nadia Carlson
“Oftentimes, these officers know what the standard operating procedures are. They simply don’t follow them. In those kinds of situations, I don’t know that including training in our recommendation is really advancing the cause much.”
— Keith Hassan, Atlanta Bar Association appointee to the Atlanta Citizen Review Board
IN CONTEXT: This quote comes from an ACRB meeting, where Atlantans review accusations of misconduct against the Atlanta Police Department. Although Hassan noted that ACRB makes recommendations for additional training in almost every case, APD doesn’t have to follow them—and often do not. Documented by Nadia Carlson.
NAME: Liberty Rudo
NEIGHBORHOOD: Bankhead, Westside Atlanta
MEETINGS COVERED: Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. and Atlanta City Council
FROM FELLOW TO DOCUMENTER: Liberty was a Canopy Atlanta Bankhead Fellow, a resident who we paid and trained to report stories that his neighbors chose. For our Bankhead Issue, he covered the past, present, and future of local businesses in the neighborhood. Since then, he’s been working on a story for us about what it takes to get a local business right on the Atlanta BeltLine—and documenting BeltLine public meetings to help find out the answer.
WHY DOCUMENT? Liberty says, “I’m a Documenter because I want to understand what it takes to be a part of development in my neighborhood. So far, it’s been great to have pay and accountability to attend meetings. As a Fellow, I write stories on the BeltLine, which I consider my bigger milestones. Notetaking [comes] in between, more of a live update as it’s happening. Decisions are being made right now that can affect your community. Going forward, we’re going to organize in real time and document it.”
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