ATLANTA – Fulton County Chairman John Eaves voiced misgivings at legislation poised to change materially how Fulton County is governed and how it levies taxes. Eaves called the legislation “ill-conceived and punitive.”
“It’s an attempt to handcuff the ability of the county commission to administer a budget. This legislation has adverse consequences for Fulton citizens,” Eaves said.
The chairman is calling for public meetings to discuss the full extent of the effects these bills would have.
This week’s legislation proposed by the Fulton County legislative delegation would have a huge effect on the governance of the county. Together, the bills submitted would cut $48 million from the budget by doubling the homestead exemption in the county to $60,000. The commission would be further restricted from raising the millage rate to make up that difference.
The commissioners would need a “super majority” to raise the millage. The status quo of the commission itself will be affected by redistricting and the elimination of one of the at-large districts.
“What they are proposing [will be] an impact on the county’s delivery of services,” Eaves said.
• Grady Hospital and the one million residents it serves annually.
• Court services and the Fulton County Jail.
• Discretionary services for senior centers all over the county.
• Elimination of funding for the arts to include arts programs and 100 arts organizations in Fulton.
“To me, it has an impact on the quality of life for citizens and handcuffs the county government to have the ability to provide services throughout our county,” Eaves said.
The chairman said he found doubling the homestead exemption to be the most onerous of the legislative jabs at the commission. It is irrefutable, he said, that the county has raised the millage rate only once since 1991, and that was in 2007 when the recession hit all counties.
“Even though we have had dwindling commercial and residential values, we have been able to make do without increasing our millage rate. So what the homestead exemption does frankly is shift the burden more on the residences in North Fulton,” he said.
Many homeowners in Atlanta and South Fulton will not have to pay property tax at all with the expanded exemption, leaving more of the burden on a smaller pool of homeowners.
By introducing these artificial crises into the budget process, it is “pushing the county commission into a corner,” and making the commissioners be “the bad guys” saying what has to be eliminated.
“This is not really well thought-out in terms of what these impacts really mean. We already have the highest homestead exemption in the state. To double it just skews [the budget] off the chart,” he said.
The redistricting does not trouble Eaves so much except that the lines are drawn so that two sitting commissioners (Emma Darnell and Bill Edwards) are placed in the same district. That is more troubling, said Eaves than drawing three GOP and three Democratic districts.
“To force two sitting commissioners to go head-to-head is not right,” he said.
Eaves thought the bill to make all new employees unclassified (and thus easier to fire or demote) was a case of the Legislature dipping into the county’s management issues.
It is for the governing body to weigh in on how the county manager is managing his or her employees. But those are management decisions. For the Legislature to dip into that is over-stepping its bounds, he said.
Eaves says the legislative delegation has provided no data to support the need for this legislation and he has seen no groundswell of grassroots support for these actions.
“To me, it’s punitive and it’s almost borderline personal,” Eaves said. “I will ask the Fulton delegation to have some public meetings on this. This is not something to decide behind closed doors.”