The assessed value of properties near the Sterigenics plant in Smyrna has dropped 10% in the past year, according to county documents.
The decision for an across-the-board devaluation was made in a unanimous vote by the county Board of Tax Assessors, and affects just under 6,000 properties within a 2-mile radius of the Sterigenics plant, said Stephen White, the board’s director and chief appraiser.
Annual notices of assessment mailed to property owners in the affected area list an “(Environmental Protection Division)-identified environmental issue” as one of the “reasons for assessment notice.”
The board must value real estate at its fair market value as of Jan. 1 each year. It uses data regarding market activity to calculate those values, White said.
According to meeting minutes, data available to the board was limited, with only five months between July 2019 and Jan. 1, 2020, and a investigation from Georgia Health News, which cited a federal study that found an elevated risk of cancer in three census tracts in Georgia — two of them in Smyrna — linked to the release of chemical ethylene oxide by Sterigenics and an unrelated plant in Covington.
“The BTA recognizes that there is an environmental air quality concern surrounding the Sterigenics plant,” the minutes read. “To date, there has been limited sales/listing activity occurring within a 2-mile radius of the plant. The lack of data makes it difficult to determine the extent of this issue and its impact on property values in this area. However, the BTA feels it is appropriate to reduce residential property values across-the-board by 10% within this study area for tax year 2020 to account for the issue. This entire area will be reviewed again for tax year 2021 to determine if sufficient sales data exists to warrant further adjustments at that time.”
White said the board will have a much better idea of how to value homes in the affected area for 2021.
“Real estate in a residential market is valued based on what the sales in the area are showing,” he said. “So come the end of the year, we’ll be able to look back at all the sales that occurred in calendar year 2020 and we’ll be able to see if further adjustments are warranted or if we should leave the values the same or if they should be raised. Those sales will tell us exactly what we need to do.”
The board’s decision was not entirely unexpected.
In September, state Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, said constituents have told him they were struggling to sell their homes amid the frenzy of Sterigenics coverage that followed Georgia Health News’ report. And Bridget Kurt, a founding member of Stop Sterigenics Georgia, told the MDJ one of her neighbors tried to get a quote for their Smyrna house at the time and was told it couldn’t be done “due to high risk factors.”
White has received calls regarding the board’s decision to devalue homes near the plant and spoke on the issue at a June town hall organized by the Oakdale Alliance, a neighborhood advocacy group.
“I think that the overall temperature that I get is, (homeowners) are saddened that this situation is affecting their property value,” he said.
A spokesman for Sterigenics provided the MDJ with the following statement Wednesday:
“To the extent the Cobb County Board of Tax Assessors’ decision to reduce certain property tax value assessments based on an ‘EPD identified environmental issue’ purports to relate to Sterigenics’ Atlanta facility, it has no basis in fact.
“Sterigenics’ Atlanta facility operates safely today as it has for nearly 50 years while performing the same essential service at the same site. The Georgia EPD also has consistently confirmed that Sterigenics’ Atlanta facility operates in compliance with regulatory standards.
“Sterigenics also agreed to the request of public officials to enhance its state-of-the-art facility and further reduce its already safe levels of ethylene oxide emissions at the facility. The enhancements establish the Atlanta facility as one of the most advanced sterilization facilities in Georgia and the United States in terms of emission control.”
Bob Ott, who represents the area on the Cobb Board of Commissioners, said the few who have reached out to him about the valuation were “somewhat appreciative of the fact that the Board of Tax Assessors acknowledged that there might be a decrease in value.”
“I didn’t have anyone call and say, ‘Raise it back up,’” he said.