The Fulton County Board of Commissioners has proposed an increase in the county’s tax rate, though state officials claim it’s illegal because of a tax freeze put in place last year.
According to county officials, the commission proposed increasing the 2014 tax rate by 1.57 mills, which would increase property taxes by $78.50 for a $200,000 house.
Fulton County Chairman John Eaves said the increase, the first since 1991, was necessary to sustain funding to Grady Hospital, senior citizen services and other programs that would have had to be cut.
“We’ve trimmed our budget by over $100 million since 2007,” Eaves said. “We’ve found areas we can be more efficient, and we’ve cut, cut, cut. We’ve cut down to the bone and we had no choice in my opinion but to increase the millage rate to generate revenue for the 2014 budget.”
However, in 2013, state lawmakers approved a measure to freeze property taxes in Fulton County through 2015.
“The action passed by Fulton County clearly violates the law that we passed, and I think it’s an absolute shame that taxpayer dollars are going to be wasted defending a clearly illegal act,” said Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta.
Lindsey, who represents Buckhead, said the purpose of the freeze was to reduce the size of Fulton County government.
“Given the fact we are so heavily municipalized, it’s time for Fulton County to reduce itself in size and allow local governments to step up,” Lindsey said.
But Eaves said the county’s attorney believes the commission has the right to increase the millage rate.
“It was an unprecedented action for the state to impose its will on a local jurisdiction. Frankly, I think it was an infringement on home rule,” Eaves said. “I feel that the law was unreasonable, unjustified and mean-spirited.”
The two governments have different opinions on the legality of the tax freeze.
“We carefully examined the authority of the state to limit this kind of tax increase, and are confident we’re in our authority to do so based on a local constitutional amendment,” Lindsey said.