FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — The Fulton County Chief Appraiser announced recently that notice of assessments would be going out to municipalities and school systems the week of June 17, nearly two months after the internal deadline set.
“We’re not saying that we’re not disappointed in our ability to achieve the internal target we set for ourselves of April 19 for property tax notices,” County Manager Dick Anderson said at a June 5 Board of Commissioners meeting. “We are, but July 1 is the date in the law.”
At the commission meeting, county staff presented next steps for improving tax assessments in the county, like instituting a market-based valuation process, hiring a deputy chief appraiser and working to streamline the exemption process.
“Fulton County and all our jurisdictions and schools will be better served by continuous improvement and an earlier date,” Anderson said. “That’s still our goal, but it’s also a matter of the accuracy of our assessments.”
Commissioner Bob Ellis said he appreciated the county manager’s plan to have a “postmortem” after tax digests are sent out this year to identify weaknesses and strategies for improvement.
“What we need to focus on here is not a finger-pointing effort but instead focus on what are the lessons learned,” Ellis said. “I’ve harped on this for a number of years, and I don’t have a personal gripe with anybody, but we have had the same set of results repeat themselves.”
Ellis has been vocal in his criticism of the tax assessment process and named several areas where the chief appraiser and Board of Tax Assessors have been slow to make improvements, witnessed by the two-month delay in sending out assessment notices.
In a presentation at a December 2017 Commissioners’ meeting, Chief Appraiser Dwight Robinson said market-base appraisal would be in place for the 2019 assessments. Market-based modeling has been in place in neighboring counties and has proven to be more accurate in assessing residential properties, Ellis stated.
Market-based modeling is available to Fulton assessors with the same technology platform they are already using. Now, it looks like market-based modeling will not be in place until 2020.
Another disappointment to Ellis: for 2018 valuation appeals, the tax assessors set a goal to have 25 percent of appeals resolved by them. In reality, only 10 percent of appeals were resolved by tax assessors, the remainder appealed the decision to the Board of Equalization or to another review level.
Additionally, when the state Department of Revenue conducted a performance review of the Fulton tax assessors in 2017, one of the key findings was the need to hire a deputy chief appraiser to oversee revaluation standards, data security and accountability.
In May 2019, Robinson said he was still working on job specifications in order to make a new hire.
Ellis was not the only one disappointed by the failure to meet deadlines.
“I want to acknowledge all the work that’s gone into revamping the way we do things,” Commissioner Liz Hausmann said. “I think the public may not see it, but we know the efforts we have undergone and the expenses we’ve incurred to make it happen, so when we have a really aggressive timeline like we had this year and we don’t meet it, it puts a damper on all those good efforts that we’ve made.”
She said she hopes to see improvement in the future.
“Everything we do, every government in Fulton County, schools, everyone, is dependent on us getting this done and getting it done right,” Hausmann said. “When we put out timelines we really should be sure we have a reasonable chance of meeting that timeline.”