by: Mike Petchenik Updated:
FULTON COUNTY, Ga. - In a narrow, controversial vote Wednesday, Fulton County commissioners approved the county’s first property tax hike in 23 years.
Four commissioners including Bill Edwards, Emma Darnell, Tom Lowe and Chairman John Eaves voted in favor of the 17 percent hike.
Commissioners Robb Pitts, Joan Garner and Liz Hausmann all voted against it.
“I’m pleased with the vote and I’m ready to move on,” Eaves said after the vote. “It’s a tough decision. We have not increased our millage rate in many years, so we made the decision now, so we’ve got to do all that we can to sustain and maintain the quality of services that we are providing to our citizens.”
The hike means a home valued at $275,000 would see a $140 increase on the annual tax bill.
Eaves told Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik the county had cut where it could, but could not realize enough additional revenue to stave off the hike.
“I’m very confident that we looked at all possibilities in terms of additional revenues as well as ways that we can identify areas of efficiency,” he said.
Pitts and Hausmann both expressed disappointment about the way in which the vote was cast, with no possibility for comment from commissioners.
“I’m floored,” Hausmann said. “I was not given the right to speak.”
Pitts chastised fellow commissioners, saying they were “spiraling out of control.”
“Not to allow a colleague to express his or her opinion is the height of hypocrisy and unprofessionalism,” he said.
Hausmann, who represents North Fulton County, said her constituents were adamantly opposed to the hike, because she said they receive the least amount of services for the investment they are now required to make.
“I don’t think things are valued accurately,” she said. “I don’t think things are allocated accurately. I don’t think they’re managed properly.”
A Channel 2 Action News investigation by Jodie Fleischer found that Fulton County is failing to collect millions of tax dollars its already entitled to. Fleischer looked at all of the residential properties that sold in 2013, since those are the ones the county uses to set the value for everyone else. The difference between the sales prices and what the county now lists as those properties' value is off by more than $1 billion. That means the county failed to accurately assess and tax tens of thousands of homeowners, her investigation found.
Eaves told Petchenik he was aware of Fleischer’s findings, but said the vote had to be taken Wednesday.
“I think we need to do an assessment and figure out what the problems are, and then come up with a thoughtful solution to it,” he said.
Prior to the vote, commissioners heard from taxpayers on both sides of the issue.
Margaret Ann Briggs told leaders she could not afford a hike.
“If you do this millage rate increase and raise our property taxes, yet more, we senior citizens who are trying to plan something so that we’re not a burden to the county, 10, 15, 20 years down the road, we’re going to have to move,” she said.
Former police officer Howard Billings, however, said he supported a hike.
“It’s time for us to turn around and go up,” he said. “We got capital improvements we need to do here in Fulton County. These buildings need some work.”