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Falling value of real estate challenges governments
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Forsyth County News
Once upon a time it was considered a financial fact of life that the value of property in the north Atlanta suburbs always went up, never down.

As city and county officials are discovering throughout the area, that particular truism was buried along with the housing boom.

As Forsyth officials ponder how best to plan for ongoing budget concerns that have plagued local government entities for more than a year now, there’s little optimism to be found by looking around at neighboring counties.

In fact, if misery loves company, elected officials in several area cities and counties have to be miserably ecstatic these days.

In neighboring Gwinnett County, officials said last week they expect that county’s tax digest to be reduced by 10 percent or more as the values of taxable properties drop in accordance with state law and market conditions.

Gwinnett, which for years was the poster boy for fast growth, high value suburban property, has done re-evaluations on some 100,000 residential properties. The result has been an average decrease of 17 percent in value for homeowners whose property values were adjusted.

Officials there say even with some modest rebounding seen in issuance of building permits, the digest almost certainly will decline again next year.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Hall County, a property owner has gone to court to fight against the market value placed on property, resulting in a rare jury trial on property appraisals. While the jury didn’t reduce the property in question as much as the property owner had hoped, it did lower the market value placed on 58 vacant subdivision lots by 16-21 percent.

Don’t be surprised to see more such cases make their way to courts if local governments don’t realistically reduce property values to match new market realities.

In Forsyth County, some property owners likely have benefited in the past from an underassessment of their property, as land values rose faster than accompanying tax appraisals. Now all the motion is in the other direction, and some who have felt their local taxes were a bargain aren’t likely to think so any more.

So what does it all mean?

Pretty simple really. If the local tax digest takes a dramatic dive, as have sales tax collections over the past two years, there are only two realistic options — cut spending and decrease services even more than already has been the case, or raise millage rates to generate more taxes from property taxed at lower values.

In the current economy, governing definitely isn’t easy — which may be the new truism that defines the region.