NORTH FULTON, Ga. — Just when they thought it was safe to open their assessment notices, North Fulton homeowners are questioning this year’s report sent to their mailboxes.
Part of the confusion centers around the 2019 property value listed at the center of the latest form. In most cases, that value increased from last year.
What’s confusing many property owners is that they voted in a special election last fall to cap annual homesteaded property assessments at 3 percent. The cap was to take effect this year, and it was to apply to the lowest assessed value of their home over the past three years — in almost all cases that would be the 2016 assessment.
More confusing still, in some cases, the notice does not take that exemption into account on its estimates for city taxes.
“When you receive the notice in the mail, you’re expecting it, but you’re not expecting a 34 percent increase over a three-year period,” said Alpharetta resident Jim Gerard. “It was a shock.”
Gerard, a recent retiree, said he found it difficult to navigate his assessment notice before finally figuring out what is going on.
Estimated tax calculations on the assessment notice are riling more than a few.
Fulton County Commissioner Bob Ellis, who represents much of North Fulton, said he has received emails from constituents up in arms over the figures. He’s already talked a few of the people through the form to help them understand.
“I think the biggest piece that’s creating a lot of confusion is the way that the exemptions were portrayed,” he said.
Some people, Ellis said, believe that their assessed values were supposed to have been capped at 2016 levels, but their assessments are up substantially this year.
They are. But the 2019 assessment numbers have almost nothing to with this year’s taxes.
Notices are not tax bills
County officials say the notices are not tax bills, although they do include estimated taxes listed at the bottom. The sole job of the county appraiser, they say, is to accurately determine property values, and that’s what they’ve done.
The 2019 notices inform property owners of the current market value of their homes. They also include the property’s “taxable value,” which by law is 40 percent of the market value.
A home worth $400,000 on the market, for example, would have a taxable value of $160,000. That’s the figure that cities, counties and school districts use to assess taxes.
Even though the 2019 values are included on the form, they have almost nothing to do with the property taxes residents will pay this year. In most cases, taxes are being assessed against the values set on the property in 2016, plus a 4.23 percent increase for inflation.
The difference between the 2019 value and the 2016 value is the floating homestead exemption, and it applies to school and city taxes. The exemption does not apply for taxes levied to pay off bonds. Bond taxes are assessed at the home’s 2019 taxable value.
Fulton County has had its own floating exemption for more than decade, so its estimated taxes on the form are fairly close to what residents will receive on their tax bill.
Some cities left out
While the form reflects the floating homestead exemption on estimated school taxes, it does not for all cities, leading some residents to see overstated taxes.
City taxes in Roswell, Alpharetta and Milton are figured at the home’s full 2019 taxable value, so their estimated taxes are higher than what the city will bill.
Johns Creek, which allows the county to bill its taxes, does have the correct estimates.
Nevertheless, the city is offering residents an online calculator tool to help homeowners verify the figures they received on their 2019 assessment notices.
The tool is available on the first page of the city’s website, johnscreekga.gov.
Roswell, Alpharetta and Milton receive their bills from their city governments, so it will be up to those cities to include the exemptions.
Alpharetta has its own local homestead exemption of $40,000, which also needs to be added into the calculation.
Alpharetta Finance Director Tom Harris said he can see why the assessment forms are confusing, especially to local residents.
“When somebody looks at it, they’re already mad because they’re thinking ‘why is there nothing here that brings me back to 2016?’” he said. “I can tell you it’s operating theoretically properly. It’s just hard to see.”
Alpharetta residents should know that the city will apply all the exemptions they’re entitled to, Harris said.