It truly is hard to believe another year is behind us. Fulton County has accomplished much in 2018 and is looking forward to the New Year to continue building on the progress made.
There are many accomplishments to highlight, but I begin with property taxes. In November, voters approved measures that will offer homeowners tax relief in 2019. All cities in North Fulton will now cap their tax increases, as will the Fulton County school system. We are pleased that Fulton County government already has this cap in place, so this will offer additional relief to property owners. In addition, residents over 65 years old will be eligible for a $20,000 additional homestead exemption.
Also, there was a favorable court ruling siding with Fulton government supporting actions taken in 2017 to protect homeowners from error-ridden, excessive assessment notices. Work remains to be done in 2019 to improve the appeals and assessment process for citizens, and I will continue to push for better customer service for our taxpayers.
Fulton continues to spearhead efforts to address the opioid crisis. We saw positive signs as the death toll related to the opioid crisis in the county declined 16 percent in 2017, and indicators are that it will decline again in 2018. These are signs the steps that have been taken are having an impact, but we must press on with a coordinated effort on local, state and federal levels. The county established an opioid coordinator whose focus is to identify and coordinate successful education, prevention and treatment initiatives.
In addition, we were the first county in Georgia to file a lawsuit against opioid distributors and manufacturers, and we are now part of a nationwide class action lawsuit that will move forward in 2019. Multiple cities and counties in Georgia joined that effort in 2018, and we are encouraged that the impact of the lawsuit will result in more responsible and safe industry practices.
A strong infrastructure of mental health services is needed in Fulton. Fulton introduced a new service model in 2018 that is providing better services to more citizens, and we will expand upon that in 2019. I am especially encouraged about our Text 4 Help program that we launched in 2018. Teens in 10 Fulton schools can now anonymously text 24/7 and reach a licensed clinician who can address any problems they may feel are overwhelming. It is a great resource for our youth who often feel under pressure and are seeking an outlet. We are excited to expand the program in the New Year.
Libraries across Fulton are undergoing a transformation, as we continue to redesign and modernize our library facilities. Residents are dealing with closures that may be inconvenient, but the pain will be worth the gain when the libraries reopen with new HVAC systems, improved technology, large study rooms and so much more.
Please continue offering your feedback as we work to ensure tax dollars are spent wisely. Our goal is to continue improving the quality of life and providing excellent service to our citizens.
I wish everyone health and happiness in 2019!