North Fulton legislators move to reshape Fulton County

Bills to curb property taxes, redistrict county



JOHNS CREEEK, Ga. – The makeover of Fulton County has begun as promised by the Fulton legislative delegation. Changes in the way taxes are collected and who pays, the redistricting of the county’s commission districts and how county employees are managed are contained in bills dropped this week in the legislative hopper.

Flexing their new powers won by redistricting Fulton’s legislative districts, North Fulton Republican legislators are remaking the county government the Republicans have criticized for so long.

In a three-pronged thrust, the GOP legislators are attacking what they say is a fat and unresponsive Fulton government. Three bills dropped Feb. 1 will curb Fulton by:

• Reducing property taxes and curbing the county’s ability to raise the millage rate.

• Making it easier to discipline and fire county employees.

• Correcting the imbalance of power on the county commission through redistricting.

First up is House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones’ bill that would double the homestead exemption from $30,000 to $60,000 phased in over two years. Jones said the move will protect Fulton homeowners from the “county’s burdensome high county property taxes.”

“I want to enable taxpayers to stay in Fulton County if they choose to, instead of escaping to lower-cost counties,” Jones said.

The legislation also freezes the property tax rate for two years at the current 10.281 mills. Increasing the millage rate thereafter will require a supermajority vote of the county commission instead of a simple majority vote, as is current law.

Jones said Fulton County taxes and spends substantially more per person than all other metro counties. She said in both the 2011 and 2012 county budgets, Fulton County’s per capita expenditures were more than double those of Gwinnett County and 67 percent higher than those of Cobb County.

Perhaps the most potentially far-reaching bill was the one from state Rep. Lynne Riley, R-Johns Creek, who submitted a bill that would dissolve one of the county-wide districts (now held by Commissioner Robb Pitts). That would leave six commission districts and the chairman who would be elected county-wide.

The chairman’s seat would carry with it more power and the bill would provide for a full-time chairman and paid commensurately.

Re-election terms would be staggered instead of all seven seats elected in the same year.

With six district seats, the power of Atlanta would be diminished, which can and often does have the votes to swing at least two seats on the board.

Riley said this gives Atlanta disproportionate clout on the Board of Commissioners that its population does not warrant.

The same day, state Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, submitted a bill of local legislation that would make all newly hired employees unclassified. As unclassified employees, they cannot appeal to the personnel board if demoted, suspended or fired. Any current classified Fulton employee who changes positions within the county would become unclassified as well.

Martin said his bill would make Fulton County employees more accountable and make employees “more responsive to the needs of Fulton County residents.”

Martin’s legislation would apply to all Fulton County employees in all branches and divisions within the county government hired after the legislation’s effective date.

The legislation would not alter the status of any current employee who remains in their current position, nor alter the salary or any other benefits entitled to Fulton County employees.

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