Voters cited concerns that loss of Local Option Sales Tax dollars would cut services, raise property taxes.
The Cities of Fulton County hosted a townhall Wednesday night in College Park for residents to hear from their city and county leaders about the ramifications of Fulton County seeking to dramatically increase its share of Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) dollars. Fulton residents in attendance unanimously spoke out against Fulton County’s negotiating position, citing concerns that the move would lead to deep cuts in services such as public safety and recreation and to steep spikes in property taxes for homeowners and businesses.
At the south Fulton town hall Wednesday, many of the mayors revealed the increase in millage rates – one city up to seven mills — they would have to impose to make up for the loss of revenues under the county’s plan. Four of the cities represented have a cap on their millage rates which will be exceeded with these increases, so will have to go to the Georgia General Assembly to seek legislation to amend their city charters.
Mayors said losing LOST dollars would result in fewer police, as cities are already struggling to pay higher salaries as they compete to recruit and retain officers.
The city officials encouraged Fulton residents to contact their county commissioners and implore them to reconsider their current proposed increase in the county share of LOST.
“If you agree with Fulton County on this, let us know. We’ll admit if we’re wrong,” said Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul. “If you disagree with Fulton County, let them know.”
Chattahoochee Hills, College Park, East Point, Fairburn, Hapeville, Palmetto, South Fulton, and Union City were represented – mostly by their mayors – at the town hall. Though north Fulton cities held a town hall for their residents a week ago, the mayors of Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton and Sandy Springs also were in attendance Wednesday night, plus a representative of the City of Atlanta, to “show our solidarity,” as many of the mayors stated. All Fulton County commissioners were invited, but none attended.
Under state law, the cities and county must agree on how to divvy up what is estimated to be more than $3 billion over the next decade. With less than 900 of Fulton’s 1.1 million residents living in unincorporated Fulton, the county currently receives 4.98 percent of LOST revenues. The 15 cities share the other 95 percent, with those revenues covering 25 to 40 percent of the individual cities’ budgets.
Last Friday, the 15 cities of Fulton County presented their plan for renewing the Local Option Sales Tax for the next 10 years in open session while county officials argued its case to the mediator behind closed doors. The cities have offered the county an additional $51 million to cover additional healthcare services. The county, meanwhile, is insisting on a massive increase of $380 million, without offering any details on how the commission would spend that money – a cost that would come at the expense of city taxpayers. The cities and county did not reach a resolution after an all-day mediation on Sept. 23.
The county has threatened to let the LOST expire – which would devastate city budgets – as a negotiating tactic. The mayors of Johns Creek, John Bradberry, and East Point, Deana Holiday Ingraham, repeatedly argued that if the county is able to forego the millions of dollars it currently receives from LOST, it undermines the county’s position that it needs additional revenue.
“The county comes out much better under the cities’ proposal than it would if it carried out its threat to let the sales tax expire,” said Bradberry.
The cities and county have until Dec. 30 to reach an agreement or the tax goes away. More information is at SaveFultonCities.com.