I was stunned. After five years of real estate free fall, I received my new property tax assessment. According to county appraisers, my home had increased in value more than $7,000 since last year! My new county appraised value? $288,600. The problem is the real world, the world of supply and demand, as reflected via resources like www.zillow.com, says my home is worth $228,000. As much as I would love to believe DeKalb County’s number, I know it’s simply not true.
So why would DeKalb County’s property tax experts, claim my home had increased in value — the past two years — while the real world — ruled by supply and demand, proves that our home values have actually decreased — another 18 percent across the board in the past year? The only answer that makes sense is the one I don’t want to believe — Many of the people who work for our government; the people we pay to assess our properties and we pay to treat us fairly — are actually doing everything they can to keep the government’s receipts where they are, or increase them, even though the real world proves our taxes should be lower.
Here’s more proof: In Fulton County, property tax assessments have risen $1.5 billion in the last year. That would be great news — if the standard was reflected on the real estate bible — the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) directory. The problem is, nothing could be farther from the truth. The real world shows Fulton’s real property sales have plummeted since 2007, and there’s still no consensus the free-fall is over.
Let’s drill down to one neighborhood, Atlanta’s Inman Park. Records show Fulton County’s crack team of assessing experts have estimated home values there to be a whopping 20 percent higher than the real world reflects. If those homeowners take it sitting down, they will pay, on average an extra $ 1,800 in taxes a year — every year — no matter what the real world values reflect.
Here’s why. A huge percentage of your property taxes go to support the public school system. Understand, many families have abandoned this system, for reasons we read about every week. Even so, we are all still compelled by law, to support systems where huge expenditures are devoted to support a friends-and-family jobs program — like the so-called “central office” in DeKalb. DeKalb County is currently facing a giant budget deficit; but instead of adjusting spending and central office staff (as recommended by two independent studies that cost taxpayers more than $400,000 dollars) school board members just last week, voted to cut classroom positions and approve, you guessed it, a 1-mill property tax increase.
What can you do about it? If you’ve received your new property tax assessment, and like me, feel it has no connection to reality, you have a limited time (for most of us, the end of this week) to appeal. You can do it yourself, or you can seek professional help. A great resource is the Fulton County Taxpayers’ Foundation; a not for profit organization that will help you appeal your assessment (including non-Fulton County assessments) for a relatively nominal fee. You can also pursue a no-risk private sector route. RJ Morris, Tax Activist will consult, and appeal your unfair assessment too. Morris’ private sector difference is that if he can’t reduce your assessment by an amount you agree to in advance — Morris says your fee will be refunded. (You can find links to both services at www.TrustDale.com)
Either way, I strongly recommend you not take this government gouge lying down.
For great consumer advice and companies you can trust, visit www.Trustdale.com. Watch Dale on TrustDale TV, weekends on WXIA 11 Alive, and don’t miss his consumer problem-solving radio show, Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. on WSB AM and now 95.5 FM.