Legislature decides to forestall Gwinnett County’s tax commissioner from almost doubling salaries with charges

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“Tax commissioners shouldn’t be able to raise taxes just to increase their own wages,” said Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) MP, who recommended the legislation to the House Rules Committee. “This measure, which is supported by two parties, makes it clear that the tax commissioners are responsible for their work, and the district commissions determine what their salary should be.”

The bill received bipartisan support from Gwinnett and Fulton lawmakers and passed the Georgia Senate 47-0 on Wednesday night. It happened to Georgia House earlier in the day by a margin of 112-55. Governor Brian Kemp has yet to sign the bill before it becomes law.

Legislators have been trying for 15 years to get rid of the practice blocked by neighboring states that allows Georgian tax commissioners to increase their salaries by 50% or more.

Most productive of them is Ferdinand, who has increased his pay by nearly 600% – from $ 70,000 in 1997 to around $ 500,000 today.

A 2019 study by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution / Georgia News Lab found that at least 48 other tax commissioners in the county were involved in the practice.

The investigation found that Fulton charges six cities 1% of their tax revenue for the administrative burden of the county, but does not calculate exactly how much the service costs. Ferdinand receives an additional USD 1 per package from four cities in addition to the 1% fee.

Meanwhile, Porter in Gwinnett plans to charge cities the full $ 1.80 per package the county costs to collect their taxes, in addition to the $ 2 per package fee paid to them. In 2020, cities paid an average of $ 1.56, resulting in a district taxpayer subsidy of $ 16.42, she said in a news release on Monday.

Porter argued that cities should charge additional fees and questioned the “moral of additional responsibility without additional compensation” of cities that use their offices to collect property taxes.

MP Jasmine Clark (D-Lilburn) spoke out against Senate Draft 201 before it passed the House. While Clark agrees with the principle, she said the bill wrongly targets Fulton and Gwinnett if tax commissioners in other counties follow the same practice.

Many of the tax commissioners who collect similar fees are Republicans and are located in rural counties, according to Clark. She said there may be a partisan interest behind the current bill to punish Democratic tax commissioners.

“I don’t like the practice at all. I’ve made this clear to the Board of Commissioners, the Tax Commissioner herself, and the cities in my district, ”said Clark. “However, I also generally disagree with the application of targeting laws to individuals. This wasn’t a local bill; It was a general calculation. “

Efstration was urged by Gwinnett County officials and city guides to move the legislation forward towards the end of the session. While Efstration plans to strengthen the language in the next session to ban the practice in all counties, he said lawmakers need to do more research to find out where else it is happening.

Porter’s plan received backlash from officials in Gwinnett towns, including Lawrenceville and Snellville. Gwinnett County Commissioners Kirkland Carden and Ben Ku issued written statements denouncing the plan, and members of the Board of Commission urged Efstration and other lawmakers to pass a bill before the May 4 deadline. Porter gave the commissioners the opportunity to put the tax collection contracts on their agenda.

Fulton commissioner Lee Morris said the first time he spared Ferdinand over these package fees was in the 1990s when Morris chaired the Atlanta City Council’s finance committee.

“I don’t think it’s good public order,” he said. “It was an anachronism when the Georgia tax commissioners knocked on doors to collect taxes.”