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BOC, Riverdale butt heads over tax exemption

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Earlier this year, the City of Riverdale purchased two private properties in order to expand the green space of a new public park on Wilson Street. While the county Tax Commissioner's office is demanding that the city pay 2008 taxes on both properties, Riverdale is asking the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) to omit the county's portion of the tax, claiming the tax bill was sent in error.

During Tuesday night's work session, the BOC discussed a resolution, proposed by the city of Riverdale, to declare the two properties tax exempt. Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin expressed concern that granting the request may create a mandate for other cities to request tax exemptions, thus hurting the county's tax base.

"Anytime you acquire property, whether its an individual or county government, the key issue is taxes," said Baskin. He said by law, public property owned by municipalities is tax exempt, but insisted there are still county, school, and state taxes owed on the property from the time it was owned privately.

"It's not a problem for 2009, but there are still two tax bills out there for 2008," said Baskin. "The county commissioners, they can't speak for the school system and the state. Regardless, the bill will have to be paid. We can't just do away with taxes like that."

Baskin said Riverdale owes the county a total of $954.88 in taxes on the two properties, and owes the school system and the state a total of $2,140.25.

Deana Johnson, Riverdale city attorney, said the city closed on the two properties on Feb. 26 of this year. She said that 57 days worth of 2008 taxes were paid for by the owner before the properties ever came into possession of the city. Johnson insists the city should have never been sent a tax bill at all.

"A tax bill was generated that should have never been generated," said Johnson. As a municipality, "you are legally [tax] exempt from the time you purchase the property. A correct tax bill would have shown total taxes for the 57 days. However, [the bill] was whatever it was for the whole year. We have requested this resolution, so the tax bill could be rescinded," said Johnson.

Iris Jessie, Riverdale city manager, said the properties will be integrated into park property and "should be tax exempt. We're planning to add the parcels that we purchased onto some additional green space that the city has, and we are going to build ball fields," said Jessie. "If they don't grant [a tax exemption], they don't grant it, but we have to ask because it will be used for parks."

Jessie said the city would have to lobby independently to the school board and the state to be exempted from their portions of the property tax.

During the meeting, Baskin said that earlier this year, the city of Forest Park faced a similar situation in which the city was donated property, but paid the 2008 property taxes upfront.

District 4 Commissioner Michael Edmondson worried that exempting Riverdale would create a doorway for other cities to pass through. "Forest Park has paid theirs and Riverdale is asking not to pay theirs," said Edmondson. "There is a lot of land in the county inside of municipal jurisdictions. I presume by doing this, we are going to set a precedence, and everybody else is going to ask to be exempt, also."

Edmondson said he was not prepared to take sides on the issue on Wednesday, but said he is concerned about "how much lost property value will the county incur," if the resolution is passed.

The BOC is expected to vote on the matter next Tuesday.