Fulton County vice chair says tax rate vote was illegal, asks for redo

Aug 03, 2018

The vice chairman of the Fulton County commission is calling for the board to reconsider what he says was an illegal vote to set the tax rate.

Commissioners on Wednesday voted 4-3 to approve a tax rate of 10.2 mills. But Bob Ellis, the vice chairman, said in a letter to commissioners that leaders had promised residents they wouldn’t collect any more money than they needed to fund this year’s services. The rate that was approved is higher than necessary, he said, and should not stand.

“I think it’s an improper and unlawful vote,” Ellis said.

The tax rate of 10.2 mills commissioners set was part of a five-year plan to decrease the tax rate each year. If commissioners had lowered the tax rate even more, as Ellis and other commissioners wanted, the county would likely be forced to raise tax rates in 2019 to meet its obligations, Chief Financial Officer Sharon Whitmore said.

But Ellis said commissioners were given only 24 hours to review the proposal, and that it was only presented to the public after the three required public meetings had ended. He questioned some of the financial assumptions in the plan.

Bob Ellis, vice chair of the Fulton County Commission, said he thinks the county’s vote on its tax rate was illegal. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Lee Morris, a county commissioner who voted against the tax rate, agreed with Ellis. He said had the county advertised that it intended to raise more money than required, more people would have attended public hearings and voiced their opposition.

Morris is in favor of calling another vote, or holding more public hearings so taxpayers can weigh in.

“We misled the public and therefore suppressed any public comment, and I think that’s wrong,” he said.

A spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office said she couldn’t comment on the legality of the vote. Robb Pitts, the chairman of the county commission, said he thought the vote was legal, and consistent with what had been advertised.