Utility data usually comes from the state Department of Revenue and is released each January, Downing said. In recent years, three utilities — Georgia Power, Cobb EMC and Bellsouth — have been among Cobb’s top taxpayers when utilities are included.
But in the 2012 list that excludes utilities, Home Depot is in the top spot, with a total tax bill of $5.7 million accumulated from 14 properties, plus personal property.
The retail giant’s largest single parcel in terms of its Cobb property taxes is 2455 Paces Ferry Road. The gross assessment on that property, which houses the company’s store support center, is $51.6 million, which results in a tax bill of $1.8 million.
Dr. Roger Tutterow, an economist, said seeing Home Depot atop the list is no surprise.
“First, they’ve got a large corporate presence here in the corporate headquarters over in Vinings, which is a big footprint in terms of geography,” Tutterow said. “Plus they’re going to have stores scattered throughout the county, some of which they may own outright as opposed to leasing from some other entity, so it’s a pretty significant player.”
SP4, a firm that owns three Galleria-area buildings, at 2300 Windy Ridge Parkway and 3200 Windy Hill Road, as well as Platinum Tower at 400 Interstate North Parkway, has paid the second most in property taxes, at $3.3 million.
SP4 is a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based CBRE, formerly CB Richard Ellis. Tenants in the properties include GE Energy and Coca-Cola, said David Connell, president and CEO of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.
The Cumberland area — where many of the parcels owned by the top taxpayers are located — represents 5 percent of Georgia’s entire economy, Connell said.
“A lot of companies that you will find in the Galleria area want a lot of space for a lot of people. They don’t want to split their people up in two or three buildings, and that’s the reason for some of the buildings being as large as they are,” Connell said. “In order to put a lot of people in a building, you have to go up.”
Location is also key for the Galleria area.
“In Cumberland, we sit right on the intersection of 41, 285 and 75, which gives you a lot of access to transportation systems,” Connell said. “But the No. 1 thing with a lot of companies historically, like The Weather Channel for example, you’re 25 minutes from the largest airport in the world.”
The Ohio Teacher’s Retirement Fund owns three properties that together make it the third highest taxpayer in Cobb. Its buildings, at 400 and 600 S. Galleria Drive and 100 Galleria Parkway, together accumulated a tax bill of $2.9 million, according to the preliminary figures.
Defense contractor Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, paid $2.7 million in Cobb County property taxes this year, though the largest portion of its bill came from personal property, at $1.8 million.
Businesses must file a return by April 1 of each year indicating the value of furniture, fixtures, machinery, equipment, boats and aircraft owned by the business, and those items are taxed as personal property. The Tax Assessor’s Office is responsible for reviewing and auditing such returns.
Fifth on the top 10 list is CP Venture, which owns The Avenue shopping mall properties in east and west Cobb. The two together account for a $1.8 million property tax bill.
Apartment property owner Walton Communities paid $1.8 million in property taxes on nine complexes around Cobb, according to the preliminary data.
Cobb’s chief tax assessor, Phil Hogsed, said assessors look at the income earned on properties like apartments to determine the assessment.
“When the income is not known for the specific property, the market rents and expenses are used to arrive at the value,” Hogsed said.
CRP, a firm that owns several industrial properties on Troon Circle and Riverside Parkway in Austell, near the Chattahoochee River, had a tax bill of $1.7 million, making it number seven on the top 10 list. The CRP parcels have various corporate names, including CRP 2 Acquisitions LLC; CRP 2 Holdings AA L.P.; CRP 2 Holdings Vinings LLC; CRP 2 Mid South Industrial LLC; CRP 3 Riverwood LLC; CRP GFI Westminster Apartments LLC and CRP Holdings A2 LLC, according to Downing’s office.
The Cumberland Mall property in the Galleria area helped make owner U.K. Lasalle Inc. eighth on the top-10 list. U.K. Lasalle had a total tax bill of $1.7 million, for the mall and 1601 and 1640 South Cobb Parkway.
“As you would guess, this firm is based in the UK, specializing in commercial property management, leasing, and investment,” Connell said.
Interstate North Office Park LP is Cobb’s ninth largest taxpayer, with a total preliminary tax bill of $1.6 million for 10 properties near Interstate 75 near the juncture with Interstate 285.
Rounding out the top 10 is Wells REIT II Wildwood Properties LLC, which paid $1.5 million in property taxes on three properties, at 2500 Windy Ridge Parkway, and 4100 and 4200 Wildwood Parkway.
Downing, who is in her 11th year as the county’s elected Tax Commissioner, said the top 10 list is produced by her office and sent to the county’s finance office, though the list itself “has no meaning to property owners.”
The county publishes the list of top taxpayers as part of its comprehensive annual financial report, which looks at the county’s activities and balances each fiscal year.
As a constitutional officer, Downing’s salary of $130,538 is set by state legislation and local acts. Her office has a fiscal 2012 budget of $685,860, and she oversees 122 employees: 80 in the motor vehicle unit and 42 in the property tax unit.
In a search by parcel on the tax commissioner’s website, several of the parcels owned by the top 10 taxpayers had “adjusted” bills with lowered amounts than in the preliminary figures.
Downing said that is likely due to the 2010 state law requiring assessment notices to be mailed to every property owner every year.
Since the law took effect, she said, “the Tax Assessor Office has experienced a significant increase in the taxpayer appeals of their property values. As taxpayers move through the appeal process and their values are adjusted, a new bill must be produced and sent.”
All Cobb County property taxes — commercial and residential — are due by Oct. 15 each year.
Hogsed, whose office is in charge of assessing the value of properties, said the process to appeal a commercial property is the same as for a residential property owner.
“Most of the commercial property owners who appeal have a tax rep who provides the income information for the subject property to us just before or during an appeal hearing, which often justifies some adjustment in value,” Hogsed said. “Keep in mind that tax reps are generally paid by their client more money the further they go in the appeal process. Therefore, the tax rep generally benefits by not showing the actual data until later in the appeal process.”
Economist Tutterow said people sometimes forget about the property taxes that result from economic development.
“When we think about the benefits of economic development, we typically think in terms of job opportunities for local employees. We tend to forget that one of the advantages, particularly in the commercial real estate side to the development is that we enhance the value of property that is subject to property tax,” Tutterow said. “While we understand that the homeowners bear a significant burden of financing local government and local school systems with regard to their property taxes, sometimes we forget that when we take land and we develop large office developments where we have large corporate presence, that also augments the value of the real estate for tax purposes too.”
Added the Chamber’s Connell: “One of the reasons we enjoy the quality of life that we do in Cobb County is the result of the jobs that have been created over time and the associated taxes which are paid by these companies.
“The economic impact to Cobb County of jobs and the low property taxes we all appreciate continues to suggest that our community should work very, very hard to retain companies and their associated jobs, encourage company expansions for more jobs, and recruit new companies and their associated new jobs. Additionally, creating and growing new small businesses in Cobb is critical to our success as well,” he said.