Two major school systems - the Atlanta Public Schools and the Fulton County Schools - have filed an emergency motion to intervene in the matter of the Fulton County Board of Tax Assessors and their collection of property tax in Fulton County for 2017.
The county recently announced that they had ceased all property tax collection in Fulton County. This was after the Fulton County Commission had learned the state Department of Revenue had not approved the 2017 tax digest. In June, the Fulton County Commission froze a portion of the tax digest for reassessed residential properties at the 2016 level following public outcry over anticipated massive tax increases across the county.
According to an APS spokesperson, the initial delay and decision by the Fulton County Commission forced the school district to acquire a $100 million tax anticipation note with a real cost to the district of more than $470,000 in interest and fees.
Additional delays may force hardships upon the districts and their employees.
How did we get here?
In June, the Fulton County commissioners, citing a law dating back to 1980, unanimously voted to freeze property assessments at the 2016 rates. Their vote halted a six-week long controversy over property tax assessments.
When the 2017 Fulton County property tax assessments initially were released, the assessments on some properties had increased as much as 200 percent.
In 2016, according to Dwight Robinson, the chief appraiser of Fulton County, assessors did not do a residential review, which left the county having to play "catch-up."
"So those increases represent not just one year," Robinson said in June. "It represents two or three years when nothing was done."
Fulton County's previous chief assessor, David Fitzgibbon, was fired by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners in September 2016, after a miscalculation in 2016's property taxes led to a delay in issuing the 2016 tax digest by about two months.
After a significant outcry from taxpayers across Fulton County, the commissioners, led by then-Chairman John Eaves and Vice Chairman Bob Ellis, asked the county's Board of Assessors to rescind values in order to review the board's process and methodologies in response to numerous errors they discovered in the 2017 digest.
After more than a month of frustration and calls for action, the Fulton County Board of Assessors decided to scrap the 2017 digest and roll back assessment values to the 2016 levels.
Why must the 2017 Tax Digest be approved?
In order to send tax bills, the tax digest must be approved. The rejection of the digest means the bills will continue to be delayed. About 63 percent of the funds used for the Fulton County Schools come from Fulton County property taxes. In the Atlanta Public Schools, 62.5 percent of the funding comes from county property taxes.
What are the school systems doing in order to improve their overall financial picture?
The school systems have filed a joint request for the courts to intervene and force Fulton County to immediately collect property taxes from taxpayers. The hearing date for the temporary collection order is scheduled for Friday, November 3.
FCSD Motion to Intervene-Oct2017 on Scribd
What contingency plans have the Atlanta Public Schools made?
“In an abundance of caution, however, we are developing a contingency plan that could include implementing furlough days for some or all employees, delaying the $500 one-time payment until January for employees not on the teacher salary scale and identifying ways to delay repayment of the district’s TAN in the event that we are unsuccessful in convincing the courts to intervene," said APS Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen in a release this week.
What contingency plans have the Fulton County Schools made?
The Fulton County Schools announced Tuesday that they are moving the December 20 payroll to December 29, along with freezing hiring and spending. They are also curtailing out-of-system travel and reviewing student field trips to limit district costs.
If the judge does not find in the school systems' favor, what effect will that have on schools, students and parents?
Both Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen and Fulton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Rose said that if the judge does not find in their favor, furloughs and school closures will have to take place because there will not be enough money to pay the staff through the end of December. Carstarphen said school shutdowns could occur as early as sometime in November, while Rose suggested closures could occur in early December. Neither would commit to a definite date for specific action, however.
Who are the individuals involved in the decision-making?
Fulton County School Superintendent: Dr. Jeff Rose
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent: Dr. Meria Carstarphen
Fulton County Board of Assessors:
Post 1 - Michael Fitzgerald
Post 2 - Brandi Alexis Hunter (South Fulton)
Post 3 - Salma Ahmed (North Fulton)
Post 4 - Edward C. London
Post 5 - R.J. Morris
Fulton County Chief Appraiser: Dwight Robinson
Fulton County Board of Commissioners:
Liz Hausmann - Dist. 1
Bob Ellis - Dist. 2 (Vice Chairman)
Lee Morris - Dist. 3
Joan Garner - Dist. 4 - passed away in April 2017
Marvin Arrington Jr. - Dist. 5
Emma Darnell - Dist. 6
John Eaves - Dist. 7 (Chairman) - resigned in August 2017 to run for Atlanta Mayor