Over the past nine years, Jennifer Teeter’s only home renovation included changing out her 1994 hot water heater.
“I haven’t done the renovations as others have done and flipped in the neighborhood,” said Teeter.
To her surprise, her property taxes still jumped this year. According to the Fulton County Assessor’s office, her home’s value increased 27 percent this year, from $164,500 to $209,500. Teeter expects she’ll likely pay nearly a $1,000 more in property taxes.
“It has never increased at this level. I was completely unprepared," said Teeter.
While Teeter and thousands of Fulton County homeowners’ property taxes will likely sharply increased this year, an 11Alive Investigation uncovered dozens of commercial properties receiving big tax breaks. Records show commercial properties owned by Fortune 100 companies and high-rise luxury apartments.
Watch the full report from Investigator Andy Pierotti at 11 p.m.
The list includes the Wal-Mart distribution center in Fulton County assessed at $59 million. Records show the county cut its taxable value by 55 percent, lowering it to $32.9 million.
Also on the list is Container Store in Alpharetta, located in the Avalon shopping center. It’s assessment got a 50 percent discount too, lowering its taxable value from $5 million to $2.5 million, which will significantly lower its property taxes.
"They sell boxes and that’s great, but they’re not bringing a lot of economic prosperity to an area…like, I don’t understand why they would get a tax break," said Teeter.
Developers in the Buckhead community got tax breaks too. That includes the Post Alexander high-rise apartments. It’s assessed value is $96 million. After the county’s 55% tax break, it will only be taxed on $53 million. Apartments here go for as high as $4,000 a month.
In all, 98 commercial properties received assessment discounts totaling $1.5 billion dollars. That’s equals at least $22 million dollars in property taxes that would have gone to Fulton County and other taxing entities.
Why is it happening? The Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC) granted most of the tax breaks. Members of the organization are not elected. They are appointed by county commissioners, which approve incentives to compel companies to move to the county, invest and create jobs.
All of the properties will eventually be taxed at 100 percent, but it’s a slow ramp up, often times taking 10 years.
Mike Bell is one of its board members. While he sees value in giving incentives to compel investment in blighted areas of the county, he doesn’t understand why a developer needs tax breaks to build in Buckhead.
"I do believe that based on the level of abatements that have been given over previous years….a higher standard should be applied," said Bell, a former Chief Financial Officer for the city of Atlanta.
Bell says DAFC should lean more on the “but For” philosophy before approving tax breaks. “That means, ‘But for the tax abatement, would this project be going forward?’ ” said Bell.
Interview requests with DAFC’s executive director Al Nash went unanswered, but the authority’s attorney did send a detailed email providing the organization’s accomplishments.
“Fulton County uses property tax abatements as a primary economic development tool and within the last 10 year period, has not only attracted projects worth more than $5B, along with 30,000+ jobs, but has also netted $5.2M in new property tax revenue after all abatements for fiscal year 2016,” wrote Sandra Zayac, DAFC’s attorney in an email.
MORE | Read full response here
Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris appointed Bell to the board. Morris is not a fan of providing tax breaks to large developers, but he says the DAFC has to compete with other economic development authorities across the state and country for the same investment.
“I think it’s important that we use this tool wisely and we use it only where it’s needed,” said Morris.
Economic development boards, like DAFC, are not elected by voters, making it difficult to hold its members accountable for questionable incentive deals.
Morris says state law prohibits the county from changing that, but he does think he and his fellow commissioners can give DAFC more guidance.
"Perhaps we should have the power to set fourth some principals for our development authority to use, like don’t do it unless the development would not occur without it," said Morris.
Fulton Tax Revolt: Full coverage of Fulton property tax increase
Notable Tax Breaks:
Container Store // 2740 Old Milton Parkway
Assessed value: $5 million
After tax break: $2.5 million
Walmart Distribution Center // 6055 South Fulton Parkway
Assessed value: $59 Million
After tax break: $32 Million
Modera Apartments // 1845 Piedmont Ave
Assessed value: $101 Million
After tax break: $50 Million
Post Alexander Apartments // 600 Phipps Blvd
Assessed value: $96 Million
After tax break: $53 Million
Skyhouse Apartments // 100 Sixth Street
Assessed value: $102 Million
After tax break: $61 Million
Trace Apartments // 782 Peachtree Street
Assessed value: $105 Million
After tax break: $52 Million