State Rep. Beth Beskin and state Sen. Jen Jordan, who both represent Buckhead, have authored legislation to save homeowners money on their property taxes.
Beskin’s would cap annual assessment increases and Jordan’s would exempt residents from paying taxes on part of their property’s value. Both bills have been passed by both the House and the Senate, and will need to be signed by the governor.
Both proposals would need to be voted on by residents in the Nov. 6 election, and neither would take effect before the 2018 assessments go out. So the county is still working on ways to help residents save money and ensure the assessment process is accurate, said Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris.
The officials discussed the bills at the March 20 North Buckhead Civic Association annual meeting, where several other city and county officials updated residents.
Beskin’s, which is HB 820, would provide a new homestead exemption that caps annual property tax increases at 2.6 percent for the city of Atlanta portion.
Her bill received praise and applause from residents who attended the meeting.
There has been a similar homestead exemption on the Fulton County portion of property taxes since 2003, which limits the Fulton County tax increase to 3 percent annually.
Beskin said it won’t starve the city of property tax funds because some property is excluded from the exemption, including those that are not classified as homestead, commercial and newly-sold properties.
Jordan’s, which are SB 485 and 486, would exempt residents from paying taxes to the school district on $50,000 of their property value. The current exemption is $15,000. SB 486, which would exempt residents over the age of 65 from paying the tax on $100,000 of their property value, did not pass. There currently is not a senior exemption for APS taxes.
Jordan has estimated the general bill to cost APS up to $10 million per year. The senior bill would have cost the school district around $24 million, she said.
The approved APS budget for 2017-2018 school year was $777 million.
She said she aimed for “the highest exemption possible without starving schools.”
The general exemption would end after three years, but the senior exemption has no end date, Jordan said.
Officials have been grappling with how to address sudden assessment increases that shocked Fulton County residents last year. The county had not been raising property assessments in line with property value increases for several years, leading to sticker shock when the assessments finally caught up.
“There’s been a problem for a long time in the tax assessor’s office,” Jordan said “It’s well documented.”
Morris reminded the audience that nothing the General Assembly passes this session will have an effect on this year’s assessments. Residents will need to be prepared for similar increases they avoided paying in 2017 when the assessments were rolled back to 2016 levels, Morris said.
To help with the property tax problem, the county is working on a more usable and transparent property assessment website and plans to fund more positions to deal with appeals, Morris said. It also plans to do a detailed assessment on properties with assessments increasing by 50 percent or more to ensure it is accurate, he said.
“We’re going to do our best at the county to do them right this time,” Morris said.
Jordan also added a provision in the general bill that will require everyone to pay taxes on the first $10,000 of property value. With this provision, people whose property value is less than $50,000 will still have to pay a property tax to APS. This was added to address the feeling that Buckhead subsidizes the rest of Atlanta by contributing the most in property taxes, Jordan said.
“We’re trying to make sure everyone has skin in the game,” Jordan said. “We want to make sure everybody is contributing to our schools.”
If the bills don’t pass this session, they could be reintroduced next session. Jordan also said revising how the assessment process is done could be on the agenda for next session.
“The question is are other states doing it better? Should we look at or change it? But that is a question for next session,” she said.