The Fulton County Board of Commissioners had a final vote on the proposed millage rate increase and the increase passed by a 4-3 vote. As the Council previously reported, the BOC had proposed a 2014 General Fund millage rate increase from 10.211 to 11.781, marking the first property tax increase for the county since 1991. This 1.57 mill increase will generate an additional $51 million in revenue for Fulton County, a figure already assumed into the 2014 Fulton County budget, approved by the BOC in January. The Council has opposed this millage increase due to the additional strain it would put on property owners in combination with higher assessed property values and because of the potential legal issues associated with the increase.
Since property taxes are calculated using 40% of the fair market value of a property multiplied by1/1000 of the total millage rate*, the increase rate has the potential to hit some homeowners worse than others. With a recovering economy, increased property values, combined with an increased millage rate, guarantees a higher property tax rate. Fulton County Commissioners Rob Pitts (District 2 at large) and Liz Hausmann (District 3) opposed the increase and voted against the budget in January in part because of the proposed increase. “My concern is that this proposed 17% millage rate increase plus the rise in the assessed property values in North Fulton County, place an exceptionally large additional tax burden on our citizens,” said Commissioner Hausmann. “In some cases as high as a 30% increase in additional property tax obligation. North Fulton has long been underserved proportionally by county services. It seems highly inequitable for the North Fulton County to again face the highest increases in property taxes while receiving the least amount of county services.” The 2014 Tax Assessment Notices have been mailed out, and many properties in North Fulton have seen a significant increase in the 2014 valuation. Any millage rate increase would be in addition to the 2014 property tax bill.
There are also potential legal issues with the proposed millage increase, which would potentially go against a law, House Bill 604, passed last year (2013) that restricts Fulton County’s ability to raise property taxes until 2015. The Board of Commissioners believes they have the right to increase the millage rate regardless, due to the “home rule provisions” within the Georgia Constitution. The home rule provisions allow a county to repeal or amend any law imposed upon the county by the state legislature. With HB 604 applying to Fulton County specifically, the BOC believes it is within their scope of power to challenge HB 604 with the increase.
Supporters of HB 604 argue that Fulton County cannot use home rule provisions to repeal, due to a local constitutional amendment passed in 1951 and upheld in 1986, that allows the Legislature the right to prescribe “the date or time when the fiscal authorities of such county shall make or fix the levy of ad valorem taxes and the amount of assessments and other charges to be made for any purpose against property or property owners.” It should be noted this amendment does not specifically address millage rates, rather the broader scope of property taxes. A question that will most likely be answered with this issue is whether HB 604 falls under the Legislature’s authority to fix “the date or time when the fiscal authorities of such county shall make of fix the levy of ad valorem taxes” or if the bill is beyond the scope of the amendment.
The Council for Quality Growth believes this increase is not justified due to the shrinking scope of the Fulton County Government and only stands to further inhibit development in the county.