County tax digest higher than projection

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett's tax digest is higher than officials had projected, despite 30,000 appeals and more than $2 billion in decreased value.

The digest -- a value for all of the property in the county for which property taxes are based -- is estimated to be $24.922 billion -- about $800 million higher than a projection from earlier this year. That means commissioners won't grapple with major service cuts or a tax increase.

"I'm sorry. It's not good news, but at least we don't have to do (more cuts)," said Steve Pruitt, Gwinnett's chief assessor.

After Tuesday's briefing to commissioners, Pruitt said the average home in Gwinnett has dropped in value from about $220,000 eight years ago to $160,000 now.

But Pruitt said the high numbers of residential appeals -- which are more than three times higher than 2010 -- won't have a huge effect on the final digest numbers.

Instead, the nearly 5,000 commercial appeals could affect the bottom line. In just one case, he said, a major distribution facility is seeking a reduction in value from $160 million to $120 million.

About 35 percent of commercial properties are under appeal, compared to about 10 percent of residential properties. Pruitt said the average homeowner is seeking a $12,000 reduction in value, while the average commercial appeal is seeking $150,000.

Cheered by news of 5,000 new jobs added to the county in the last quarter of 2010, Commissioner John Heard said the digest news further stressed the importance of economic development efforts in the county.

"That's where our hope lies. We've got to spur commercial opportunities," he said. "We've got to make Gwinnett County the best place to do business in the country."

"It is a manageable number of appeals," Pruitt said, adding that he expects the county will be able to collect taxes in one installment. "We are definitely prepared to deal (with appeals)."

The county's assessment appeals skyrocketed after a new state law mandated that every property owner receive an assessment every year. In the past, notices were only sent for properties where the value had changed.

Whereas property assessments in the past lagged the market by several years, the new law means the county revenue is feeling the same hit of the housing bust that has left more than one-quarter of all homeowners underwater on their mortgages.

Also Tuesday, commissioners approved a reconciled $1.5 billion budget for 2011. The annual mid-year look at the budget included a $33 million reduction to operating costs, after officials have worked for months to cut costs because of the expected drop in the tax digest.

Commissioners will consider the millage rate at an August hearing.