Metro Atlanta counties prep for tax value shake-up

ATLANTA (AP) - Tax assessors in the metro Atlanta area are expecting an onslaught of requests to lower property values due to the economic downturn, setting up a possible domino effect of decreased values for entire communities.

The owners of more than 50,000 properties in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett have until Wednesday to file the requests and thousands are expected to argue that their real estate values have been reduced by the housing market and recession.

But since state law requires uniformity, assessors are being forced to consider whether they should reset values for entire communities when one or two residents seek lower values.

Widespread lowering of values mean lower tax collections for local governments that are already strapped for cash.

"We are going to do entire neighborhoods at a time, thereby resolve the uniformity issue," said Hank Ruffin, chief appraiser for DeKalb. "You don't, whenever possible, want to make spot adjustments. There will certainly be more parcels affected than the 8,000 returns."

Ruffin said the more than 8,000 returns filed to his office by this year's deadline are more than four times the volume usually received in a normal year.

The impact could be even greater in Gwinnett, where more than 14,000 property values have been challenged.

Chief appraiser Steve Pruitt said his county typically gets about 1,000 returns a year but has filings on 12,451 residential properties, seeking an average reduction of 25 percent.

Gwinnett has gotten an additional 1,925 returns from business owners who are seeking an average assessment cut of 32 percent.

Pruitt said the county got significant numbers of requests for lowered tax appraisals in 152 of the 1,400 neighborhoods it tracts.

Antonella Lovinger said Friday that she was planning to file returns on rental properties in DeKalb and Fulton where values had dropped. She said a house in West End was appraised at $190,000 2 1/2 years ago but now is surrounded by sales in the $40,000 and $50,000 range.

"The values have just gone down tremendously," she said.

Appraisers are also looking to answer questions about values in different property classes such as office towers. Even small adjustments on such high-dollar assessments could cost Atlanta, Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County millions.

The potential revenue decline is true for all metro Atlanta governments, many of which have already been forced into layoffs and cuts by the recession.

Clayton, Cobb and Fulton will begin to get a better understanding how they will be affected next week because their deadlines to file are April 1.

"You just don't know what's going to happen next," Clayton's chief appraiser Rodney McDaniel said.