Wednesday, August 9, 2017

YOUR TAX DOLLARS -

Fulton tax commissioner to collect fee from S. Fulton

More than one county commissioner called the agreement “repugnant” but still voted to allow Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand to earn a $1-per-parcel fee for collecting taxes in the new city of South Fulton.

Ferdinand, the highest-paid elected official in the state, had refused last month to negotiate on the fee, which is allowed under state law. He earned about $390,000 last year, a total that included $210,281 in $1 fees for collecting taxes in Johns Creek, Sandy Springs and Atlanta. South Fulton has 40,596 taxable parcels, according to the county tax assessor’s office.

Several Fulton County Commissioners were opposed to the fee, but voted in favor of it after a parade of people — including South Fulton Mayor Bill Edwards; Rep. Roger Bruce, D-South Fulton; and members of the City Council — urged them to allow Ferdinand to collect taxes.

Only one commissioner, Liz Hausmann, voted against the agreement.
Commissioner Emma Darnell said she didn’t think it was fair that anyone earn that much money for collecting taxes — and suggested that Ferdinand might consider donating the additional $40,000 he will earn. Fulton County Vice Chairman Bob Ellis said the fact that county commissioners have to approve the agreement between Ferdinand and the city is a “stupid construct.” He said he wished South Fulton had a better agreement.

“My constituents find this morally repugnant, and every time there’s a news article about that, they’re outraged,” Commissioner Lee Morris said. “It is a problem for folks, and I’m going to hear from my constituents about this vote.”

Earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly eliminated a 50-cent fee that also went to the tax commissioner every time he sold a tax lien. Between 2011 and 2015, Ferdinand collected more than $200,000 as a result of that fee. He continued to collect it through July 1, the effective date of the new law.

Bruce said if commissioners did not approve the agreement, the city would not be able to collect the taxes it needs to pay back Fulton County for its services. Joe Carn, a College Park city councilman, said he came to support his neighbors because “if one city is struggling, it’s going to affect the other cities.”

Edwards told commissioners he wanted them to treat the new city the same as they had Johns Creek and Sandy Springs, which also use — and pay for — Ferdinand’s services.

“Our council unanimously approved Dr. Arthur Ferdinand to collect our taxes knowing we would have to pay him for our taxes,” Edwards said. “I’m willing to pay that $1 to get that kind of person in our midst.”

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7/20/17  -  FULTON COUNTY

South Fulton mayor upset over tax fee decision

Commission’s denial of tax collection fees goes against Ga. law.

By Arielle Kass akass@ajc.com


Bill Edwards
HENRY TAYLOR /HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM

Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand.
BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Bill Edwards, mayor of the new city of South Fulton, just wants to give Arthur Ferdinand some of his city’s money.
  Ferdinand, the Fulton County tax commissioner, is willing to take it.  Fulton County commissioners are standing in the way.
“I’m so mad, I don’t know what to do,” Edwards said, hours after commissioners voted Wednesday not to allow a contract between Ferdinand and the city to collect the city’s taxes. That agreement would have enhanced Ferdinand’s salary by $1 for every parcel he collected taxes on. There are 40,596 taxable parcels in the city of South Fulton.
  Ferdinand, who is the highest-paid elected official in the state, collects a similar per-parcel fee in the three other Fulton cities where he collects taxes: Atlanta, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs. Altogether, the fees netted him an additional $210,281 last year. His total salary was about $390,000.
State law allows the fees from cities that have contracts with their county’s tax commissioners. It says the tax commissioner can accept additional compensation for taking on more duties — like city tax collection. But the money has to pass through the county.
And Fulton isn’t on board.
“I think it’s wrong the money would go to his salary vs. going to the department that’s actually doing the work,” Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann said. “It’s troublesome.”
  A 2007 law tried to curb the practice, but existing contracts were grandfathered in. The new South Fulton contract is subject to the fee only if Fulton agrees to it. Edwards doesn’t think that’s fair.
“I was floored today that they didn’t pass this thing,” he said on Wednesday. “It’s our call. If we want the man to do our taxes, what have you got to do with it?”  ‘I was floored today that they didn’t pass this thing. It’s our call. If we want (Arthur Ferdinand) to do our taxes, what have you got to do with it?’
Bill Edwards, Mayor of the new city of South Fulton
  Kevin Payne, the Floyd County tax commissioner and president of the Georgia Association of Tax Officials, said it’s not uncommon for tax commissioners to have contracts that pay them $1 per parcel for their work. His does. So does Irvin Johnson’s in DeKalb County. Gwinnett’s tax commissioner collects for cities but does not collect the fee. Cobb does not collect tax revenue for cities.
In areas where the fee exists, it’s a remnant of a time when constitutional officers made their income through fees and fines.  “It’s a fairly common practice,” Payne said of the fee.
The high number of taxable parcels in Fulton County puts a spotlight on Ferdinand.
  The fee may add to the cost of tax collection, but Payne said it’s far less than it would cost for each city to collect taxes on its own, and the process is more efficient.
Jeff Breslau, a Johns Creek spokesman, said last week that the city uses Ferdinand to keep residents from getting two tax bills. Jenna Garland, an Atlanta spokeswoman, said the city partnered with Ferdinand in 2002 after trying to collect on its own. Before then, she said, the collection rate fell below 90 percent. And the fees for collection are less than it would cost to reestablish that office.
  Ferdinand could not be reached for comment on Friday. But he said Wednesday that he was not willing to negotiate the $1 per parcel fee.
“I am open to the law, and the law says I will be compensated,” he said.
Hausmann said she hopes Ferdinand will reevaluate his position. The matter will again come before the board Aug. 2.
  In South Fulton, Edwards is worried that he’ll have to contract with someone else if commissioners don’t approve the agreement. Right now, no taxes are being collected in the city.  “Dr. Ferdinand ain’t doing nothing illegal, he’s doing something you don’t like,” said Edwards, a former Fulton County commissioner. “He takes advantage of it....The state of Georgia thinks it’s fine.”

7/20/17

Fulton tax commissioner’s fees in dispute, will delay tax collection


  
Posted: 4:55 p.m. Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Tax collection in the new city of South Fulton is in limbo after Fulton county commissioners balked at an agreement that would pay Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand an additional $1 per parcel for doing the work.
Ferdinand, who is the highest-paid elected official in the state in part because of such fees, said Wednesday that he would not negotiate a deal that would deny him the money that state law says he can collect.
“I am open to the law, and the law says I will be compensated,” he said.
State law allows Ferdinand and other tax commissioners to collect the fees as part of their salary. Dan Ray, the executive director for the Georgia Association of Tax Officials, said previously that tax commissioners deserve high compensation because they handle so much public money.
Ferdinand earned about $390,000 last year, a total that included $210,281 in $1 fees for collecting taxes in Johns Creek, Sandy Springs and Atlanta. Atlanta paid him the largest amount, $152,865.
South Fulton has 40,596 taxable parcels, according to the county tax assessor’s office.
Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann said she could not support an agreement that allowed Ferdinand to add an additional $40,000 to his salary, calling it problematic. Money should go to the county, and not to individuals, she said.
“The issue is not the fee, the issue is where the fee goes,” Hausmann said. “I wish you were more willing to look at a different structure.”
County commissioners have to approve the agreement for Ferdinand to collect taxes for South Fulton, a new city that incorporated this spring. They decided Wednesday to delay a vote on the agreement until August in the hopes of negotiating another agreement. In the meantime, county attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker said, taxes would not be collected on South Fulton’s behalf.
“I just hope we don’t jeopardize the new city with this decision,” Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said. “…We’ve got to figure something out. I don’t want 100,000 residents of the new city to be a victim of an ideological tug of war.”
South Fulton Mayor Bill Edwards did not return several phone calls seeking comment about the fee. Because the law allows the county tax commissioner to collect fees only from cities, Ferdinand did not charge any additional money to the area when it was part of unincorporated Fulton County.
In Johns Creek, spokesman Jeff Breslau said the city paid Ferdinand $26,670 in $1 fees last year. The city elects to use Ferdinand’s services for efficiency’s sake, Breslau said, to keep residents from getting multiple tax bills.
Ferdinand is not the only tax commissioner to collect the fee. In DeKalb County, Tax Commissioner Irvin Johnson collected $113,000 in fees from 10 cities last year for a total salary of $285,781. Tax commissioners in Gwinnett and Cobb counties don’t receive salary supplements from cities.
Earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly passed a law that curtailed some other fees Ferdinand was collecting. It eliminated a 50-cent fee that also went to the tax commissioner every time he sold a tax lien. Between 2011 and 2015, Ferdinand collected more than $200,000 as a result of that fee. He continued to collect it through July 1, the effective date of the new law.
Ferdinand earlier this year had proposed a different agreement that distributed the South Fulton payment among his staff. Members of South Fulton’s city council approved that agreement in May, though county commissioners were opposed to it.
Hausmann, the county commissioner, said her opposition was nothing personal. Ferdinand does “a great job collecting taxes,” she said, but her north Fulton constituents are opposed to the $1 fee.
“Other people like the job I do also, and they pay for it,” Ferdinand said.

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