Eaves cuts off debate on budget hike

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ATLANTA — When the last of six budget hearings ended Aug. 6, Chairman John Eaves called for an immediate vote on the budget by the Fulton County Commission without allowing any discussion or debate – much to the chagrin of commissioners who wished to speak.

In a 4-3 split vote with Commissioners Liz Hausmann, Robb Pitts and Joan Garner opposed, the commission adopted a general fund millage rate of 11.781, representing a 17 percent property tax increase.

Eaves declined to recognize Hausmann’s attempt to discuss the budget and instead called for an immediate vote after the commission’s lunch break.

“I am extremely disappointed in the way the vote was conducted,” Hausmann said after the meeting.

Pitts also decried the “hurried vote” with no discussion.

“What John Eaves did by not allowing Commissioner Hausmann the opportunity to speak was discourteous, unprofessional and absolutely unacceptable,” said Pitts. “In 35 years of voting on public budgets, I have never seen such blatant suppression of an opposing viewpoint by a presiding officer.”

Despite the “critical and controversial nature of the vote,” Eaves allowed no comment or debate by the commissioners.

In fact, Pitts called the entire vote problematic, noting that the effort to raise the millage rate was a violation of an existing state law adopted by the General Assembly in 2013.

“I am not surprised, nor should anyone else be, by the action of legislators in filing suit immediately after the vote,” he said. “That was a foregone conclusion.”

Pitts said he has opposed the budget because the tax increase is not only illegal, but unbalanced.

“We simply have to stop spending more than we take in, as well as using cash reserves to balance the budget is not acceptable,” Pitts said.

He also noted that the financial ratings services Fitch and Standard & Poor’s both have noted Fulton County’s continued reliance on reserves. This continued practice could affect bond ratings, they said. This could ultimately cost taxpayers more by triggering higher interest rates.

“I am sorry to say that we have a crisis on our hands. The budget is a disaster, and now we have embroiled ourselves in a legal battle,” said Pitts. “Things are clearly spiraling out of control.”

SIDEBAR

Fulton calls on Deal, Legislature to expand Medicaid

Say Affordable Care Act would allow county to reduce Grady Hospital budget

ATLANTA – The Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted Aug. 6 to “urge” Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia Legislature to reduce the burden of Fulton County taxpayers by re-considering their decision to opt out of the expansion of Medicaid to more than 400,000 low-income Georgians who earn too much for Medicaid – $15,000 a year for single adults.

That is not enough to buy private insurance on the federal health exchanges. If Medicaid is expanded, the federal government will pay the full cost of expansion for three years and approximately 90 percent thereafter.

Thousands of uninsured Georgians who fall within the Affordable Care Act coverage gap receive health care services at Grady Memorial Hospital’s emergency room and clinics.

According to the Fulton resolution, Grady is the principal safety-net hospital “serving residents from almost all of Georgia’s 159 counties.”

That would allow Fulton County to reduce its $50 million contribution to Grady.

“States like Arkansas and Kentucky who provided coverage to their low-income residents by expanding Medicaid under ACA have seen a significant drop in the number of uninsured residents,” said Commissioner Emma Darnell.

Arkansas was 10 percent lower and Kentucky 9 percent since 2013, Darnell said.

The table below provides an estimate of the annual and monthly increase for properties with the standard Fulton County homestead exemption of $30,000.

Home Fair Market Value Tax Increase With Standard $30,000

Fulton County Homestead Exemption

Annual Monthly

$100,000 $15.70 $1.31

$150,000 $47.10 $ 3.93

$200,000 $78.50 $6.54

$250,000 $109.90 $9.16

$300,000 $141.30 $11.78

$350,000 $172.70 $14.39

$400,000 $204.10 $17.01

$450,000 $235.50 $19.63

$500,000 $266.90 $22.24

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