Governments throughout Fulton County are getting a personal wakeup call from the county’s chief appraiser, who says governments will see less property tax money this year than they did the last year.

Interim Chief Appraiser David Fitzgibbon said several governments in Fulton County can expect a 6 to 8 percent decrease in the tax digest in 2012 compared with 2011. That’s a number that applies to the cities of Sandy Springs, Atlanta and the Fulton County Board of Education.

“We really hope we’re wrong,” Fitzgibbon said. “We really hope we see, when it washes out, it really isn’t that much.”

He said the biggest drop was in residential property values. Bank-owned homes are still an anvil around the neck of the residential market and in 2011 there were 7,600 foreclosures in Fulton County. Foreclosures also drag down the value of other owner-owned properties.

Fitzgibbon said traditionally the appraiser’s office has waited until much later in the year to give information on whether the tax digest will be up or down, with most of the information coming out around July. That’s tricky for local governments, because many start their fiscal years on July 1 and plan their budgets weeks ahead of time. In the past, governments have based their projected tax revenues on other sources of information, he said.

“There was so much different information out there, we felt like it would be good for the jurisdictions to hear it from the people preparing the numbers — have it straight from the horse’s mouth,” he said. “It would’ve been preferable if we’d had final figures, but a lot of these districts are setting these budgets now.”

There may still be changes to the revenues received because of increased tax appeals. Fitzgibbon said the office received 38,000 appeals in 2011 because of publicized changes in state law making it easier to challenge property taxes. Until the appeals get resolved, owners are charged 85 percent of their tax bill.

Fitzgibbon’s preview of the tax digest has caught some local governments off guard. When he visited the Sandy Springs City Council on April 3, council members said they were surprised to hear the projections.

“We obviously don’t like the bad news,” Mayor Eva Galambos said. “We hope you’re wrong.”

Other local governments are also digesting the news.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean told the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods that the city will need to grow its economic base to offset the cuts. She was referring to an upcoming vote on whether to levy penny sales tax to pay for transportation projects in a 10-county region around Atlanta.

She said the city is expecting to lose as much as $13 million in property taxes.

“Our tax digest is going nowhere, you guys,” Adrean said.

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