Ruling may mean tax cut for Gwinnett residents

by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga.,None —

A judge’s ruling could resolve a three-year-long tax dispute between Gwinnett County and its 15 cities.

County officials and city leaders have not been able to agree on how much in taxes residents in incorporated cities should pay for services, like police. Now attorneys from both sides are reading through a 60-page report obtained by Channel 2’s Kerry Kavanaugh.

"This has been about the average citizen," said Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson.

Johnson said the Gwinnett County Municipal Associations have been focused on how much the average citizen in the 15 cities pays in taxes for public services. Johnson believes those people shouldn't have to pay the county for services their cities already provide.

"People call it double taxation, or taxation without a service,” he told Kavanaugh.

The service most in the spotlight is police protection. Norcross, Snellville, Lilburn, Lawrenceville, Suwanee, Duluth, Auburn, Loganville, and Braselton all have their own police departments. Officials from all of them, except Lilburn, contend their residents shouldn't have to pay the same amount in county taxes for county police as a Gwinnett County resident does. There's also debate over county planning, zoning and road maintenance.

"In that case, we're being taxed for all of our own subdivisions and the subdivisions outside of Norcross. The county is not giving us money to pay for our subdivision streets, to pave them or to keep them up," Johnson said.

The debate began three years ago when the cities and the county could not agree on a new service contract. In summer of 2010, the county sued the cities to try and force an agreement. It got even uglier when a judge issued sanctions that prohibited county and local police from using radar guns.

The judge’s 60-page ruling includes a new term -- special service district. The judge has decided Gwinnett County cannot assess a tax or fee for any service district, without a specific agreement between it and a service district which could be one or all cities.  Johnson told Kerry if the ruling sticks, county taxes could decrease for residents in those incorporated cities.

Gwinnett County officials would not yet comment on the ruling until they have a better understanding of it. Each side has 60 days to appeal.