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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

DeKalb County Property Taxes

Will a new city force our property taxes to increase?  

The most immediate answer to that is 'Not necessarily.'  Of course this a very complicated issue because residential property taxes will always be dependent upon the level of services being offered and the revenue stream from other sources, such as commercial property, business licence fees and hotel/motel taxes.  In other words, residential property taxes will result from the balance between residential and commercial properties within the city.  Residential property taxes will necessarily be higher in a city that has a very low commercial tax base, and will be much lower in a city with a high percentage of commercial property.  This would explain why new, and even existing, cities are always looking to add commercial property to their tax base.

As an aid to understanding taxes in DeKalb County, I have collected property tax rates from the county and each one of its cities for comparison purposes.  The tax statements are freely available from the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner's website.  They were chosen randomly from throughout the county and from nine of DeKalb's cities (Atlanta and Brookhaven being excluded) and all identifiable information has been redacted to protect the innocent.

There is a very basic procedure the county follows to determine your property taxes.  (This is a very simple description and I am not an expert so please bear with me.)  All properties are appraised, (their overall value is determined) by the county assessors office.  That value is reduced to a 40% assessed value (50% in Decatur) to be used against the millage rates. The millage rate is the amount per $1000 that is used to calculate taxes on property. So a millage rate of 23.98 would be $23.98 per every thousand dollars of assessed value.  So, at 23.98 mils, a home that is appraised at $250,000, will be assessed at $100,000 (40%), and have a resulting tax of $2,398.00, (100 x 23.98).  In the tax statements, the 23.98 mils will also be written as .0239800, which, conveniently enough, is also the millage rate for the DeKalb County School System.

There are several different property taxes  that DeKalb County routinely charges.  These are the same throughout the county, and include County General Operations (10.43 mils), Hospitals (.94 mils), county bonds, and so on and so forth.  Other taxes are charged just against unincorporated areas (Unincorporated Tax District), while separate taxes are charged only against incorporated areas (City Tax districts).  These tend to vary based on the services the cities receive from the County, and just how the terms were negotiated.  Dunwoody, uniquely, has no county tax from a City Tax District.

In the spreadsheet I have highlighted those taxes most relevant to the cities.  The gray bar includes the taxes that DeKalb County charges both unincorporated areas of the county and properties actually inside the cities.  The green bar highlights the city taxes, which vary from a high of 22.05 mils in Pine Lake, and a low of 2.74 in Dunwoody.  Pine Lake has very little commercial development, and a small population, so their city tax is especially high.  Dunwoody's city tax is a result of two things.  It has a high percentage of commercial property, and as it has adopted Oliver Porter's PPP model (Public Private Partnership) which embraces using private sources for some city services, and avoids major costs (pensions and entitlements) that have strangled older cities.

The last column projects the taxes that a proposed new city might expect.  The City Tax, bolded and set here at 4.0 mils, is the only real variable. There is very little difference otherwise.  With a city tax of 4.0 mils, the property taxes essential break even with the current property taxes.  4 mils exceeds the current city tax for Dunwoody, 2.74, and the expected city tax for Brookhaven, is a maximum of 3.35.  Going to 5 mils will only increase taxes by $100.  Ultimately, a maximum millage rate for the City of Tucker will be determined by the conclusions of the CVI study, and decisions on services to be made by the city formation committee.  The city millage rate will most likely be incorporated into the enactment bill, and the city charter, and will be very critical to the ultimate success of the City of Tucker.

Sample tax statements follow.

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