Crowd vents outrage over property reappraisals

Commissioners want assessments scrapped



ALPHARETTA, Ga. — If last Thursday was any indication, Fulton County residents are plenty steamed about their latest property appraisals.

Close to 300 people packed a June 8 town hall meeting at the Water Resources Operation Center in Alpharetta to tell county officials about what they consider unjust 2017 property assessments. With the second-floor room filled, citizens lined up in the stairwell for an opportunity to vent about what many called a shabby appraisal process.

Fulton County Commission Vice Chairman Bob Ellis told the crowd he and other commissioners have been inundated with complaints about the new appraisals.

“Chairman [John] Eaves and I called upon and asked the Board of Assessors to rescind the current notice of assessments and go back and do a review,” Ellis said. “We were not comfortable with the emails, the calls and the number of individual situations that were brought to us which cast doubt on the credibility and the quality of the assessments.”

How the issue plays out could be decided June 15 when the five-member Board of Assessors meets to consider whether the new assessments should be scrapped. That decision weighs heavily on two North Fulton cities in particular.

Roswell and Alpharetta are just days away from adopting their 2018 budgets, and cities like to know the true value of property before they tax it.

Assessments and appraisals are ultimately set by the Board of Assessors, Ellis said, and their tax digests for the county and cities must be within an acceptable range of value as established by state audit.

The reappraisals were triggered this year when the Georgia Department of Revenue notified Fulton County that property was undervalued by about 12 percent countywide. The state threatened stiff fines if the properties were not brought into acceptable values.

Most of the more than two dozen residents who spoke Thursday said they had no issues with the need for reappraisal. But some said the method used for valuing property was incomprehensible. Others said it was just plain wrong.

Nick Sarge of Roswell said the appraisal on his property, a Cape Cod-style home, shot up $65,000 in 2014. The following year, he appealed and got the total reduced by $14,000.

“My neighbor who has a square-foot house just like mine, same lot, same everything — his hasn’t gone up a bit,” Sarge said.

This year, Sarge said his property appraisal shot up $84,000.

“That’s got to be messed up,” he said.

Then, he listed some of the items he found in error.

“Your square footage is off,” he said. “Every year I tell you, I do not have 3½ bathrooms, I have two bathrooms. And every year, you create 1½ bathrooms.

“You also included on my front porch is a patio. It’s a stoop. It’s a concrete stoop coming up to the door.

“[You say] I’ve got two decks. I’ve got one deck. The second deck you call it, is a landing coming up the steps. You say I have a finished room above my garage, an attic room. I do not and never did.”

His account was repeated by other residents, who said they found similar errors in calculating square footage and listings of upgrades that do not exist.

Some residents who spoke Thursday night said their property values have risen more than 50 percent, some as high as 70 percent and more.

Ellis said Thursday’s comments reflect what he’s heard from other residents.

“We’re going to be flooded with so many appeals it just makes no logical sense,” Ellis said.

Much of the outrage Thursday was directed at Chief Appraiser Dwight Robinson, who sat at the front taking notes.

Robinson said appraisals are calculated based on property sales that have occurred within neighborhoods or in similar subdivisions nearby. There is no denying that Fulton County has lapsed in its appraisals, he said.

Based on a state audit, Fulton County was at 79 percent of fair market value coming into this year, he said. The state requires property be valued within a threshold of from 90 percent to 110 percent of value, Robinson said.

“We are willing to show you how we got the value on your property, Robinson said.”

At the same time, the chief appraiser said his office is not perfect, and he recommended those with legitimate issues pursue an appeal.

“The assessment you got is not the end of the story,” he said. “Back in 2008 when the market was tanking, we had 38,000 appeals. I just want you to know we are not always going to be right.”

Officials in Alpharetta and Roswell are continuing public hearings on their 2018 budgets, which must be approved by June 30.

Monday night, the Alpharetta City Council approved a second reading of its 2018 budget, but officials admit the controversy has put them in a jam

Mayor David Belle Isle said the city is assuming a 3 to 4 percent increase in property values, a conservative estimate based on information collected before the county’s appraisal controversy erupted. The new appraisal, however, puts the city’s property value growth at about 11 percent, which would result in an additional $1.2 million in revenue from property taxes based on the current rate of 5.75 mills.

“I think our best idea right now is to consider, based on previous history, a modest 3 percent or 4 percent growth, which is what our budget is based on,” Belle Isle said. “We will continue that way until we know for sure.”

Belle Isle said the current appraisal controversy has too many variables. No one knows how many appeals will be filed if the new appraisals stand, and no one knows how that may delay revenues coming in to the city.

If it turns out later, the higher assessments stand and the city has additional funds, the city would have to decide, probably in the next fiscal year, what to do about it in adjusting the mill levy, he said.

“There’s too much uncertainty,” Belle Isle said.

The cities of Milton and Johns Creek have until the fall to finalize their 2018 budgets and set a mill levy.

Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood said some citizens saw little to no increase in property values, while others faced a 100 percent increase as a result of the reappraisal.

Lockwood said he would like to see a cap set in place that would limit the amount that property values could rise each year. If the appraisal stands, there is a possibility of lowering millage rates to compensate, Lockwood said.

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