In-house lobbyist Christopher Boyd said at the county board of commissioners’ meeting Jan. 22, “If there is a theme to this draft legislative agenda, it is to allow Fulton County to be treated uniformly with every other county in Georgia.”
Vice Chair Emma Darnell agreed on the official message being conveyed to the county representatives and senators.
“I see the local [agenda] as, once again, saying, do not discriminate against the largest county,” she said. “Don’t give us more than other counties have and don’t give us less.”
The draft agenda’s recommendations include opposing a homestead exemption hike in House Bill 541, which almost succeeded in the 2013 session.
“It would raise the exemption, which is already three times higher than that of Cobb, Gwinnett and DeKalb counties, to six times,” Boyd said about the $30,000 increase. “It would cost the county about $48 million annually.”
Commissioner William “Bill” Edwards said it will have an unintended effect besides punching “a $47 million hole” in the general fund.
“If you do this, every house valued at $175,000 and below pay no taxes,” he said. “The affluent are going to pay.”
Darnell and Edwards recommended postponing the county’s official stance on one of the potentially most debated issues, a south Fulton incorporation referendum, until after a public hearing at the Feb. 5 meeting.
It would, he said, help counteract what he perceived as a rush to file HB 704.
“Everywhere I go in this part of the county, people are talking about transparency. ‘How dare you do something without talking to us?’ We had 500 people at a meeting in south Fulton about the [city],” Edwards said about a Jan. 16 town hall. “That’s how thirsty they are for information.”
Boyd said the new city would be entitled to 9 percent of the county’s local option sales tax revenue, or about $20 million.
Another agenda item, Preserving Fulton County, asks the Fulton delegation to oppose any of the six resolutions introduced to create Milton County from its northern half.
Boyd said, “The loss of resources would be devastating to county operations. It would cause substantial tax increases on the remaining Fulton County.”
Commissioner Liz Hausmann, whose district includes Milton, Alpharetta and Johns Creek, said she favored a referendum, as the board did in 2005 regarding Sandy Springs even while opposing cityhood itself.
“I’ve never sat here and said anything about the creation of Milton County. I fully recognize that I’m a Fulton County commissioner, but I do think if we’re going to have a package here that we should be consistent,” she said about the agenda. “Our position should be that the people should decide.”
The board approved the item 6-1 with Hausmann opposed.
It also green-lighted the agenda’s recommendations on other bills, including jail overcrowding relief, expanding Medicaid and more state funding for Grady Memorial Hospital.