Cobb tax digest chart

Cobb’s tax digest has risen steadily since dropping in the wake of the Great Recession, to a record high.

Despite the pandemic, Cobb County’s tax digest, according to preliminary figures, is set to grow 5.5% in 2021, led in large part by surging residential property values.

If that figures holds, the total taxable value of residential, commercial and “personal” property in Cobb will have grown from $41.1 billion on Jan. 1, 2020, to $43.3 billion on Jan. 1, 2021, a record.

“At this point in the calendar, we’re able to look at how much work our appraisers have done, and we can see how much work is left, and from there we have a good idea what’s going to happen to the tax digest,” Cobb Board of Tax Assessors Director Stephen White said in a video the county shared on its YouTube page Wednesday. “There’s still work to go, this is just a prediction.”

The digest is calculated annually by the Board of Tax Assessors, which releases preliminary numbers each March and final numbers in June.

Growth in the digest means an increase in tax revenue for Cobb County, its six cities, its two school districts and its three community improvement districts — assuming their millage rates hold steady or increase.

“This was unexpected good news,” Cobb Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said. “We were unsure how hard (the pandemic) would hit Cobb’s economy and how deeply those effects would be felt. Stephen White’s announcement gives us hope Cobb County will weather this unprecedented event.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, the county’s finance team prepared for a Great Recession-style hit to tax revenues. Among the assumptions they made were a flat tax digest in 2021.

During a February budget presentation before the county’s governing board, county finance director Bill Volckmann said the tax assessor’s office expected an increase in the digest. But 2% growth — about half that of a normal year — would only generate about $5.5 million, he said, just enough to cover an increase in the county’s pension and healthcare costs.

Growth of 5.5% would mean the county will have more money to address those rising costs as well as other budget priorities raised by county department heads, such as trouble recruiting and retaining workers and outdated infrastructure.

White said the growth likely would have been even higher if not for the pandemic, which has had a negative impact on entertainment venues, such as Six Flags Over Georgia, and area hotels.

That negative impact has been more than offset by a raise in the value of other commercial properties, such as warehouses used by online retailers — many are in south Cobb, near Six Flags — and residential property.

As movie theaters and bowling alleys sat empty, White said, “homes were selling faster than ever.”

In Cobb, with its preponderance of subdivisions — 239,000 of the county’s 259,000 parcels are residential, according to White — “our digest goes up and down based on mainly what happens to residential,” he added.

In 2009, the county’s digest hit $30 billion, a record at the time. The Great Recession sent home prices tumbling, and the digest with it. By 2013, it was just over $25 billion. It has risen briskly since, surpassing its 2009 level just three years later and hitting $40 billion for the first time in 2020.

Volckmann has told county commissioners that governments are often the last to feel the pain from a recession and the last to recover.

Despite the digest’s growth, Cupid said Wednesday Cobb “must still proceed with caution.”

“We can’t be assured that the pandemic is over until life in our communities returns to normal. Delayed impact to our digest in the years to follow is still an unknown,” she said, adding the county will “continue to use our resources to address the growing needs in our county to ensure we can get vaccine to as many people as possible, remain responsive to local businesses hurt by the pandemic, and help the thousands in our county who are hurting after losing jobs, losing income, and are struggling to stay in their homes.”

Property assessment notices will be sent to commercial properties in April and residential properties in May.

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