By Lewis Regenstein
Mayor Shirley Franklin has fortunately failed in her attempt to raise Atlanta’s already exorbitant property taxes. Indeed, these taxes need to be lowered significantly, for they are hurting our fragile economy and people at all income levels, particularly our most vulnerable citizens.
Property taxes for Atlanta and Fulton County have become a major hardship for residents struggling to make ends meet, buy $4-a-gallon gas, feed their families increasingly expensive food and pay ever-rising water bills.
Many homeowners are having difficulty making their mortgage payments while their homes decline in value, and renters are struggling to make their monthly payments. Most unfairly, revaluations have raised the assessed value of many homes and commercial properties that have declined in value in the past year, forcing owners to pay more for properties that are worthless.
In this vicious cycle, higher taxes would raise the cost of owning property in Atlanta and could ironically drive up rents and reduce affordable housing while hurting the value of homes even further.
There is a widespread false perception that mainly the rich pay property taxes. But landlords have to charge rents that cover their expenses, one of the biggest of which is taxes. So renters of houses and apartments are also victims of higher property taxes.
High taxes also hurt small businesses, which provide two-thirds of job growth in Atlanta. High taxes can be job killers, and we need more businesses in Atlanta, not more unemployment.
Moreover, high property taxes can ruin the attractiveness of Atlanta, once called “The City of Trees.” High taxes force many middle-class homeowners, especially the retired, the elderly and those on a fixed income, to sell their homes or part of their land, especially if they have a large lot with trees and green space.
This is one reason Atlanta has lost so much of its tree cover, green space and wildlife. The result has been the disappearance of birds and other wildlife that add such beauty to our neighborhoods, along with the loss of trees that absorb pollution and noise and make our city cleaner and lovelier.
No wonder there has been a continuing flight of middle-class Atlantans to Cobb and other suburbs. The trend of families moving back into Atlanta, largely because of nightmarish traffic, could be reversed if city housing becomes unaffordable.
Many Atlantans could reduce their taxes by half or more just by moving a few miles into the suburbs. Why encourage people to leave Atlanta when we need every taxpayer we have?
In the long run, high property taxes will, ironically but surely, generate less tax revenue for Atlanta. Unfortunately, by the time this becomes apparent to our generally clueless elected representatives, it will be too late for this once lovely and livable city.
Native Atlantan Lewis Regenstein is a writer and environmentalist.