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New law means foreclosures count
Pearson's legislation targets assessment practices
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Forsyth County News

The 5,200 homeowners who asked Forsyth County for a property reassessment may fare better than expected thanks to a pending change in state law.

Senate Bill 55, which Gov. Sonny Perdue recently signed, requires counties to include foreclosed, distressed and bank-owned properties in their assessments.

The bill's author, District 51 state Sen. Chip Pearson, was surprised these properties weren’t already included in assessments.

“We never had a situation, I think, in our lifetime that you had wholesale subdivisions go back to standing inventory,” said Pearson, a Dawsonville Republican whose district includes part of Forsyth.

“We certainly can’t have it where people’s equity in their homes is evaporating before their eyes, and yet they’re going to be paying on the same, or higher value of a home than what it could practically be sold for in today’s market.”

The bill took effect immediately after it was signed. That means 2009 tax bills, which go out in mid-September in Forsyth, will include the changes.

Still, County Tax Assessor Mary Kirkpatrick said the county is sticking to its original plan not to reassess many properties this year.

“The public reads and hears a lot of metro Atlanta and national statistics on how much property values have dropped, and those are not applicable for Forsyth County,” she said. “That, coupled with the fact that tax values were already lower than fair market value, we’re not seeing many reasons to lower areas.”

Residents who want their properties to be reassessed next year can file their requests between Jan. 1 and April 1, 2010.  

Kirkpatrick said nearly 5,200 homeowners did so this year, a substantial increase from the average of 300 to 500. Their new assessed values will reflect the foreclosure law.

Kirkpatrick said she recently ran an analysis of the county’s 89,000 properties, with and without foreclosures.

Without foreclosures, the county’s assessments are about 94.8 percent of the market countywide. In other words, the county’s values actually fall under fair market value.

With foreclosures, the assessments totaled 97.21 percent. Both numbers are within the goal of keeping assessment values between 95 and 100 percent.

While Kirkpatrick’s data shows the overall tax picture is unlikely to change, a homeowner surrounded by foreclosed properties may disagree.

“From a sales standpoint, if you’re in a subdivision that has foreclosures, that foreclosure is going to impact the value of your home if you go to sell it,” Pearson said.

“We thought it was fair to take that same issue into consideration when you’re required to pay taxes on it.”

Counties still need to fund their budgets. If property taxes fall, governments may choose to raise millage rates.

Pearson said he hopes counties will make cuts to their budgets before resorting to raising millage rates. Otherwise, it’s "going to be hurting the very people who are being squeezed by this.”

“A lot of this is just going to take some time to shake out, because again, we’re in uncharted territories for Forsyth County and all of these counties that have had the most growth,” he said.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword. You’ve got growth issues when you’re growing ... but when you stop growing, you’ve got other issues.”