Fulton County has a good idea. We hope the state will get behind it.
The county is putting to use a new policy to help cities and towns legally fight assessment-reduction claims. The Board of Supervisors recently authorized county participation in the legal defense of three municipalities regarding a total of $8.2 million in assessment-reduction actions proposed within their areas.
The board last September established a policy for participating in the legal defense of property tax assessments.
With the new policy, if certain conditions are met, the county will consider participation in the defense of challenges to lower governments' assessments.
County officials say the smaller governments sometimes don't have the financial resources to mount such challenges on their own.
That's true, and it's why we support the policy.
Chiefly, the policy seems to be aimed at large companies that have big assessments to challenge - and the expensive attorneys needed to fight the battle. A condition of the policy is the legal challenge involves an assessment for a tax parcel or the combination of tax parcels with an aggregate full-market value of $500,000 or more.
The crux of the issue is this: The cities, towns and villages in Fulton County do not have the resources to effectively battle a large company that wants a tax reduction. It can be easier - and cheaper - for small municipalities to agree to an undeserved reduction in a property's assessed value rather than engage in a legal battle with a wealthier opponent. It's no coincidence the county will be participating in assessment challenges that involve the Johnstown Industrial Park and the Arterial Plaza, among other locations.
Any assessment that gets reduced basically shifts the tax burden to other taxpayers. For all practical purposes, more money will need to come from other property owners to make up for the reduced assessment.
A reduced assessment has a ripple effect on all property taxes; a key reason for the county to get into these fights is a large assessment reduction shifts the county's tax burden.
A key issue here is fairness. It's one thing when an assessment gets reduced because a homeowner can show his or her residence is overassessed. It is a different matter when a company can use its wealth to effectively threaten a municipality into reducing its assessment.
It's important to note there is an entity that could help municipalities in this matter: the state government.
State lawmakers should take a look at what they can do - be it making laws or providing legal and financial assistance - to make sure large assessment reductions are being earned fairly.