ATLANTA - Fulton County could be forced to refund thousands of homeowners millions of property tax dollars after revelations their homes were illegally overvalued.
South Fulton County resident Bernard Harris bought his home in 2015.
“After the first year the tax assessment went up,” he told Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik. “It also made the mortgage go up as well.”
In fact, records show only a handful of homeowners in Harris’ neighborhood saw increases to their assessments in 2016.
“I could see how that could be a problem for some people,” he said. “Their salaries wouldn’t suffice the increase in the taxes and it may be a hardship for some people."
Fulton County Board of Assessors member R.J. Morris said when he examined the 2016 tax digest, something didn’t look right to him.
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“Only a few thousand homes went up in value,” he told Petchenik. “You’d have 200 to 300 homes in a neighborhood, but only six were raised and I said, ‘Something’s wrong here.’”
Morris said a deeper dive into the data turned up troubling information.
“I noticed that everybody that bought a house in 2015 was raised in 2016 and everybody around them stayed the same,” he said.
According to Morris, the former county chief assessor was “sales chasing” -- raising a home’s assessment to its sales price.
“I think the county really overvalued all these people,” he said. “It was against the law because they were targeted.”
Morris said state law requires counties to uniformly assess all properties.
“You’ve got to either bring everybody up or everybody down,” he said.
He told Petchenik his research turned up that 18,441 properties from Alpharetta to South Fulton and all points in between that had been “sales chased.”
“I think ‘stole’ is a harsh word. However, I still think we have to use it,” he said. “Because if you go in and you overbill someone, and you intentionally do it, then I think $15 million was stolen from these individuals.”
At a meeting last Thursday, the board of assessors voted unanimously to analyze what Morris uncovered.
“We will certainly take a look at what happened with these 18,000 parcels,” said current chief assessor Dwight Robinson. “I don’t know that I’ll call it an investigation, but we’ll certainly analyze the data.”
Morris said he wants those homeowners refunded the overvalued amounts and homeowner Bernard Harris told Petchenik that he agreed.
“It’s not right and I think someone should have to pay for that,” he said. “They should be doing it equally and they should be doing it fairly so that all people will be taxed the same.”
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