November 04, 2004By HATCHER HURD
The Mayors of Metro Atlanta (MOMA) are asking the governor and Legislature to allow each county to vote on a measure that would fund green space acquisition. It would be a self-imposed tax paid whenever real estate is transferred from one owner to another.
Called the transfer tax, it would double the current tax from 0.1 percent of the amount of the sale to 0.2 percent. On the sale of a $150,000 house, the transfer tax would rise from $150 to $300.
Roswell Mayor Jere Wood who introduced the idea at the MOMA meeting last week said the beauty of the proposal is that legislation would only allow the matter to be called on for a vote in each county.
Under the program, the money collected in a particular county would stay in that county. Based on last year's transfer tax, Wood estimates it would bring in $10 million annually, of which his city, Roswell would receive $1 million.
"It will be up to the people of each county to decide if they wanted this tax or not. In counties that are growing and green space is getting scarce, it would seem like a good idea. Other counties may not want it. But everybody gets to decide," Wood said.
Wood also accepted a suggestion that the funds be applied to historic preservation as well.
"After I began talking about this, I heard from leaders at Tybee Island. They liked the plan if it could be used for historic preservation. I think that would be an appropriate use as well as the acquisition of green space," Wood said.
MOMA knows it must enlist the support of Gov. Sonny Perdue if it is to have any chance at all of getting through the General Assembly next session. Wood said he thinks the governor wants to be proactive about funding green space. This is a way to do it when budgets are tight.
"If the governor is serious about preserving green space, this is something he could support. This is a clear solution supported by 20 mayors at MOMA. If the governor has a better plan I'm ready to support it," Wood said.
State Rep. Jan Jones, R-North Fulton, agreed to take the proposal to the governor's office. She served six months on Perdue's land conservation committee. Although she likes the idea of letting each county decide if it wants to participate in the program, she said she has not studied it enough to completely embrace it.
"As a member of the conservation committee, we agreed the statewide green space program should continue. So we looked at tools we could give communities to preserve green space. This could be another tool in the toolbox," Jones said.
Certainly the idea of the tax money remaining in the individual counties was appealing to her, she said.
"As a Fulton resident, I do like the idea of having local control over how to raise money and spend it," Jones said.
She noted that future state budgets are likely to be leaner because of national economic forces such as rising health care costs. Cutting the budget for items like green space acquisition would be tempting.
"It would be easy to cut that, but you don't want to look back 20 years later and say look what we should have done," she said. "It would be one way to ensure long-term needs are not crowded out of the budget by day-to-day pressures."
It would not necessarily be a tax increase, since preservation dollars would have to come from either general fund expenditures in state and local budgets or from bond issues. With the transfer tax, the burden would not fall on ad valorem taxpayers.
Meanwhile, until the idea is blessed by the governor, it is not reasonable to expect any local legislation on the matter. Jones said she expects to hear something in the coming weeks.