Fulton taxpayers get good news: No tax hike

Commissioners bow to community pressure



ATLANTA, Ga. – Fulton County residents can breathe easier now that the Fulton County Board of Commissioners killed the plan to raise property taxes to meet a budget deficit of around $47 million.

The tax rate will remain at 10.281 mills.

The proposed 0.50 mill increase would have raised taxes about $36 on a $250,000 home and would have produced $17 million in revenue. That would have still left another $30 million in cuts to be made, County Manager Zachary Williams said. Now the county will have to cut even deeper.

Commissioner Liz Hausmann, who opposed the proposed tax increase from the start, credited vehement constituent opposition for defeating the move.

“I think it was the overwhelming outpouring from the citizens of Fulton County who said don’t raise our taxes,” Hausmann said. “We were all swamped with calls and emails. One hundred percent of mine opposed it. That is why it ended in a 7-0 vote against it.

“I was really pleased. The commission heard the people.”

Now the hard work comes, finding the way to balance the county budget. There is a possibility of combing additional revenue from accounts owed to Fulton County, she said.

“It is time to seriously looking at our expenses,” she said.

Local watchdog groups such as the Fulton County Taxpayers Association hailed the move as a victory for the people.

“This type of simple, grassroots campaign can truly make the difference. The Commission should be praised for their vote and diligence in keeping taxes fair in Fulton County," said Barbara Payne, executive director of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation.  

Nevertheless, the 5 percent tax increase proposed was a small one compared to the tax hikes Fulton’s sister counties of Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett have already initiated to compensate for a shrinking tax digest. Those counties have raised their millage rate from between 16 percent and 26 percent.

Meanwhile, Fulton has not raised taxes for 20 years, and property taxes produce 80 percent of General Fund revenue. The Fulton tax digest has shrunk by 15 percent. Fulton’s homestead exemption of $30,000 is three times that of other metro counties.

Williams pointed out Fulton County has responded to economic pressures during the economic downturn by cutting expenditures by 13 percent from 2007 to 2011, and the county’s hiring freeze has been in place since 2008.

Fulton has decreased its headcount of full-time employees by 23 percent from 2006 to 2012, Williams said. Other efficiency steps have included consolidation of departments, streamlining operations, increases in grant funding, refinancing and other measures.

Hausmann said more of the burden of the tax increase would have been borne by North Fulton, however. Their homes have experienced a modest comeback in value, while Atlanta and south Fulton have not been so fortunate.

Budget cuts will likely include the reduction or even elimination of certain services. At the top of the list are the arts, human services and FRESH grants, reducing the hours of libraries and reducing the funding of the Grady Health Care System.

Fulton County Public Affairs Manager Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez said these are not services mandated by the state or the federal governments, thus this is where the county manager will likely focus the first cuts.

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