Fighting Back Against the Property Tax Squeeze

Over the past several weeks, Atlanta residents have been scrambling to figure out how to address the onerous property tax assessments sent out by the Fulton County Assessor’s Office. Property values increased roughly 30 percent countywide, but unlike last year, the county shows no signs of rolling back assessments.

In summary of what we’re seeing: looking at residential properties across the City of Atlanta (Fulton), median appraisals were $102,400 in 2017 but $163,200 in 2018, with a median valuation increase of $40,600. The median change in valuation percentage is 34.09%, and the median tax liability is $2,819.44.

There is an ongoing debate related to how governments should respond to this increased valuation of property. While the City of Atlanta has rolled back millage rates to remain “revenue-neutral,” Atlanta Public Schools likely won’t make a decision on whether to follow a similar path until later this month. The Georgia Assembly took action as well, with state leaders seeking to cap increases in valuations at 2.6% each year, in addition to new homestead exemptions for Atlanta residents (both measures go before voters this November).

When I ran for Atlanta City Council, I sought to address housing affordability in a meaningful way. Reconciling our tax system was one part of that discussion–though many people correctly associate tax burdens with homeownership, high taxes also negatively impact renters, businesses, and non-profit institutions. Homeowners are just one set of stakeholders in an issue that clearly affects everyone.

While long-term, sustainable solutions are still years away, residents can take some steps to ensure tax relief right now. Each year, many residents are encouraged to apply for homestead exemptions offered by Fulton County and the City of Atlanta. While these present significant savings, eligibility for most of these programs requires residents to be at least 65 years old or be a disabled veteran. And now that it’s July, it’s worth noting that the deadline for exemptions applications happened back in April.

There’s still hope, however.

Property tax appeals are an important recourse for homeowners. While the appraisal process is an imperfect system that can seem unpredictable, appeals play an important role in ensuring fairness. Here’s how to make the most out of the appeals process:

  • Homeowners can file their appeals online or through the mail. Both methods allow for residents to attach additional documents in support of the appeal. The more details residents provide, the better chance there is to have a successful appeal.
  • The deadline to file an appeal is July 6th, so act quickly.
  • Typically, appeals are filed on the basis of uniformity (consistency across the same class of housing) or the value of the home (changes in appraised value). In both cases, homeowners will have to build a case, and use that case to declare a more accurate opinion of value.
  • If filing based on value, it would be beneficial to include as many photos as possible showing issues that may devalue the home. Structural problems, floodplains, and proximity to treatment plants all impact the value of the home, and homeowners should be prepared to provide evidence indicating why the appraisals are incorrect.
  • If filing due to uniformity, property owners are more likely to be successful if they can document other comparable properties. Using tools like Trulia and Zillow, residents can find homes that have similar amenities, locations, bedrooms, and square footage. Residents should review recent sales in their neighborhood from last year (specifically any between January 1 and December 31, 2017) and use that data to help gauge accuracy–that also includes identifying whether renovated properties are driving up valuations as well.
  • If the appeal is successful, then the property’s value will be frozen for three years.

Fulton County has recently updated their property tax portal, and it’s much easier to use than before. While this portal useful for identifying individual properties, I decided to create the below interactive visualization to more easily identify appraisals across entire communities to help with uniformity appeals.

The left map highlights percentage changes from 2017 to 2018, while the right map highlights changes in total dollars comparing the same years. Hovering over parcels on both maps will display the Parcel ID, Address, the 2017 valuation, the 2018 valuation, the percentage change between the two, the total change between the two in dollars, and the tax hit for each property (based on a total millage rate calculation of 43.19, and assuming homeowners don’t file an exemption or that millage rates remain unchanged by the end of the month).

Note that the map search functionality is a bit limited–I recommend entering your ZIP code in the search bar if you have trouble finding your neighborhood.

This is a challenging and uncertain time for many residents. While answers may seem few and far between, at the very least, I hope that this write-up is informative. Please share if any of your friends, family members, or neighbors could find this useful as well!

Hello, Atlanta

Not quite “hello, world”, but this works just the same.

I’m Jason Dozier, and I’m a former candidate for Atlanta City Council.

It turns out that despite 13 months of active campaigning (plus an additional several months of behind-the-scenes relationship-building, researching, and soul-searching), I’m not quite ready to sit on the sidelines. 244 votes is the kind of gap that will force you to think long and hard about every decision from the last year and a half. But rather than dwell on the past, I’m looking towards the future. My passion, energy, and desire for change hasn’t subsided one bit, and if anything, it’s motivated me even more despite the setback.

As I said at the end of our race, the work to make Atlanta a better city is ceaseless, and I’ll continue to fight, agitate, and play a part in the soul-searching discussions and debates that will make Atlanta a stronger, more united city.

Hopefully my writing will accurately reflect that work.

I’ll do my best to not to disappoint.

-Jason