Politics/Elections

Published on November 3rd, 2014 |

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MPNCA political forum tackles Fulton 17% tax increase

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves was billed as the kickoff speaker for a panel discussion of the county’s 17 percent property tax increase at the 30th annual meeting of the Mt. Paran-Northside Citizens Association meeting Oct. 27th, but he showed up after everyone else on the panel had their say and the audience was asking questions.

Instead of Eaves leading off the discussion, that role was turned over to Lee Morris, the newest member of the commission, who is still on the election ballot but will become the new member of the commission since he is not opposed in the

Commissioner-elect Lee Morris displays two piles of documents: to the right the Fulton Budget proposal...to the left documents of departments wish lists beyond what is in the budget proposal.

Commissioner-elect Lee Morris displays two piles of documents: to the right the Fulton Budget proposal…to the left documents of departments wish lists beyond what is in the budget proposal. To the left, the empty seat for Commission Chairman John Eaves.

election Tuesday.

The other members of the forum before a packed house at the Northwest Presbyterian Church on Northside Drive in Buckhead were Georgia House District 40 Rep. Rich Golick, and Georgia Senators Judson Hill and Hunter Hill, all of whom represent parts of north Buckhead.

The panelists agreed it is likely that legal challenges to the 17 percent tax increase will go all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court before it is finally determined if Fulton County can make that tax increase stick.

Four of the political panelists were, left to right, Lee Morris, Rep. Rich Golick, Sen. Justin Hill and Sen. Hunter Hill, with moderator Brenda Smith.

Four of the political panelists were, left to right, Lee Morris, Rep. Rich Golick, Sen. Judson Hill and Sen. Hunter Hill, with moderator Brenda Smith.

Morris told the audience if the county does not win out on the appeals, it will have to use all its reserves just to pay for the county’s necessary services. As it is, the county will use $44 million of its reserves to supplement the $625 million budget.

Morris said he had recently sat through 32 hours of department hearings related to the budget. He had two stacks of documents sitting on the table in front of him. Morris said the larger stack represents what the departments need above the amount approved in the budget.

Morris said there are county functions that need to be privatized. He said the commission needs to take a hard look at employee benefits. The county spent $4.5 million in comp time in 2013, he said. He also suggested combining health services clinics, turning some of them over to Grady to operate.

He said the county might consider using ankle bracelets to monitor the activities of those found guilty of non-violent crimes instead of locking them up in the county jail. Morris said 40 percent of the county budget goes to corrections. “We need to find creative ways to keep the jail population down,” he said.

Golick, Judson Hill and Hudson Hill all said they supported the contested legislative act earlier this year that put a freeze on raising taxes in Fulton County until the new commission took office following this election. “Local control is not

State Rep. Rich Golick makes a point during the forum, as State Sen. Judson Hill listens.

State Rep. Rich Golick makes a point during the forum, as State Sen. Judson Hill listens.

something we easily dismiss,” Golick said.

The issue has gone on for a generation or more, Golick told the audience. “There does come a point when the state needs to step in to decide the issue. I am still going to look for ways to lower the tax burden.” There is another court hearing on the matter Nov. 5, the day after elections.

“The desire is to see that the tax burden is as low and fair and equitable while still being able to provide and pay for the necessary services the county provides,” Judson Hill told the audience. “The issue dates back to the 1951 Legislature,” her said. “It is not a Democrat or Republican thing.”

When Commission Chairman John Eaves did arrive for the forum, he found himself sitting next tp Commissioner-elect Lee Morris.

When Commission Chairman John Eaves did arrive for the forum, he found himself sitting next tp Commissioner-elect Lee Morris.

When Eaves did show up and join the panel, he told the audience, “For the most part we have managed our resources well.” He said Fulton had not increased the tax rate in 20 years and was the last of the metro Atlanta counties to raise rates. “We have reduced the budget every year since 2008,” he added.

Pointing out that 37-40 percent of Fulton County’s population resides in north Fulton and that part of the county gets only 25 percent of the expenditures, Eaves told the audience, “There is much room for improvement. We can do a better job of equitably distributing services in the county.”

Eaves said the county has asked accounting firm KPMG to assess budget expenditures. “Whatever they recommend, we will seriously consider,” he added.

Asked by BuckheadView if he knows how much of the county tax revenues come from Buckhead, Eaves said, “I have no idea, but I suspect it is substantial.” Then BuckheadView asked: If Buckhead pays substantial taxes, why are public hearings on such matters never held in Buckhead?

Of nine public input meetings on the Fulton County budget that were held in the waning days of October, the only one even remotely close to Buckhead was north of I-285 in Sandy Springs, miles north of Buckhead.

Eaves told BuckheadView those meetings are scheduled based on the recommendations of the members of the County Commission. “That would have been up to Commissioner Tom Lowe,” who is retiring from the commission. “I would

Fulton  commission Chairman John Eaves answers  a question from the audience.

Fulton
commission Chairman John Eaves answers a question from the audience.

imagine Lee Morris will do a better job of seeing that such meeting are held in Buckhead,” Eaves added.

The political forum was moderated by longtime MPNCA volunteer and officer Brenda Smith.

Prior to the political forum, outgoing MPNCA President Jennifer Moyers conducted an election for the organization’s new officers, to serve one-year terms, and new members of the board beginning a two-year term in January.

The new officers are President Taryn Bowman, Vice President Jay Smith, Secretary Trish Thomas and Treasurer Pat Daly. Newly elected board members are Renay Blumenthal, Jarrett Clinton, Denise Mitchell, Jay Mitchell, Larry Samuelson, Jimmy Smith and Bill Turpin.

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