Many of you have inquired about what to expect with your individual tax assessments for 2019. You’ve been burned before with a surprise “high percentage jump” assessment, you’ve struggled to have your appeal handled in a timely or fair manner, and you are rightly asking the question -- Is Fulton County going to run into problems with its long-challenged property tax assessment system again in 2019?
I have been asking the same questions for you and am concerned about the lack of clarity and action coming out of the Assessor’s office and continue to have a lack of confidence in the process. I am becoming increasingly concerned that 2019 will bring additional issues or more of the same.
Despite promises of performance, several key deadlines and benchmarks have already been missed, prompting me to express my growing concerns to our Chief Appraiser, my fellow Commissioners and you, the taxpayer.
As many of you may be aware, Fulton County's property tax system has faced a host of major and troubling challenges over the past several years: skyrocketing and inaccurate assessments, record levels of property tax appeals, audits by the state department of revenue due to poor performance, even a class action lawsuit alleging improper assessment practices.
In 2018, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners made a firm commitment to implement comprehensive and sweeping improvements to the entire tax assessment process. We allocated millions of dollars for technology upgrades to improve the accuracy of assessments and to enhance the customer experience. We also added staff members to streamline administration, improve customer service and ensure property tax assessments and property tax bills were issued on time.
Despite these efforts, I am increasingly losing confidence in our tax assessment process. At the time these upgrades were implemented, the Chief Appraiser indicated he would work with property owners and resolve 25 percent of property tax appeals without the need of a hearing before the Board of Equalization or other parties. That target was missed, as only 10 percent were resolved internally and the rest were pushed on to the Board of Equalization which prolonged the time and effort required by taxpayers to address their appeals.
In addition, we have already missed key target deadlines:
Commitment to mail tax assessments was April 19, 2019. Today is May 20, 2019 and we have received no firm commitment from the Chief Appraiser as to when the assessments will actually be mailed to taxpayers.
Newly filed tax exemptions approved by voters in November 2018 were to be input into the system by May 17, 2019. We were recently informed that deadline will not be met and no new target date has been set. This has me concerned that your assessment notices may not provide a clear and accurate indicator of your estimated taxes.
A finding in the Department of Revenue audit asked for by the Board of Commissioners in 2017 stated “that the FCBTA (Fulton County Board of Tax Assessors) lacked the basic organization plan needed for an office of its size and complexity” and went on to say “FCBTA must develop an organization plan that addresses a plan of action for revaluation and standards of practice that will include appraisers performing ratio studies, improved data security procedures, and accountability. This process should be overseen by a Deputy Chief Appraiser (DCA) who should be hired from outside the current staff" county governing authority. Bear in mind that this report and its findings were provided in early 2018. When I asked the Chief Appraiser where we were in hiring this individual, his response was that he was still working on the job specifications.
Finally, my attempts to replace one of the five members of the Board of Assessors who has served 12 years and has failed to address many of the recent tax assessment issues was recently blocked by Chairman Robb Pitts and the three Commissioners representing South and Central Fulton. My goal was to appoint a new member who can bring a new and thoughtful perspective to the table but unfortunately, the wishes of the Commissioners and Mayors representing the Northern portion of Fulton County were ignored and dismissed and instead, continued poor performance seems to be acceptable for four of our seven commissioners.
I will continue to press for answers and accountability even if my voice is in the minority, and my hope is that these issues can and will be resolved, and we will restore public confidence.
In closing, these missed target dates have not only affected Fulton County, but also the Fulton school system and the 15 municipalities within our borders as the missed deadlines make it more difficult for them to make informed financial decisions.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to reach out to me or my staff. We are here for you.