A local media outlet reports that many homeowners are filing a property tax return. That's a little-known form that allows homeowners to declare what they think their property is worth before they receive the county's appraisal.
It's a sign that more homeowners believe the value of their homes in the recession has dipped below the appraised price. It could also mean less property tax revenue for counties struggling to balance their budgets.
In Gwinnett and DeKalb counties, more property tax returns have already been filed this year than in 2009. Cobb County officials expect a record number to be filed by the April 1 deadline.
However, some counties, such as Cherokee and Forsyth, report fewer residents appealing their property tax valuations.
Gwinnett County received 31,983 tax returns, a 125-percent increase from last year even more than the 100-percent jump county tax appraiser Steve Pruitt expected.
"We made it easier to file a tax return this year," Pruitt said. "We did a lot of ads and put a form on the Web site."
Pruitt said Gwinnett will probably end up changing the property values on more than half of the contested properties.
Owners of commercial property in Gwinnett sent in tax returns that claimed their properties were worth about $3.4 billion less than the county's appraisal, Pruitt said.
DeKalb County officials received 15,252 tax returns this year, nearly twice as many as last year. DeKalb's chief property appraiser, Calvin Hicks, expects his county's tax digest to drop 6 to 7 percent.
Last week, Cobb County had not yet received anything near last year's total of 11,788 tax returns, but a deluge was expected, said the county's chief appraiser, Phil Hogsed.
"A lot of those come in right at the last minute," Hogsed said. "We expect an uptick in the numbers between now and April 1st." He said he would not be surprised if the county received 20,000 tax returns.
Considering the predicted lower property values this year, Cobb County is taking steps to cut its 2011 budget. County leaders decided to use an early retirement incentive - as did DeKalb - to try to trim payroll expenses.