Crime has increased throughout our country, and law-abiding citizens are increasingly fearful for the safety of themselves and their families. While the cities in Fulton County are responsible for policing, the County has a role in public safety in adjudicating criminal cases.
Many of the justice partners in Fulton County are separately elected officials who do not report to the Board of Commissioners (BOC). We cannot tell a judge how to run his or her court, or tell the district attorney or solicitor general who or how to prosecute, or tell the sheriff how to run the jail. But we do fund the budgets of those departments and have recently funded $75Million to address just the backlog of over 200,000 criminal cases that accumulated during the COVID pandemic. We have also had success in bringing the justice partners together in efforts toward greater communication and cooperation. As one of the two BOC liaisons with the justice partners, this is a priority for me.
Now more than ever, we need to ensure that our law enforcement officers and officials have the tools and funding they need to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe.
TAXES – A VOICE FOR TAXPAYERS
I have not voted for a tax increase since I entered office. With the increases in home values over the years, homeowners continue to face rising property taxes. Since I took office in 2015 I have focused on this. The millage rate for the county’s portion of your property tax bill has been reduced every year I have served on the BOC, and mine has been a key vote in each reduction. But in addition, I have addressed three areas affecting our tax bills:
Homestead Exemptions - I discovered in my first year that the Board of Assessors was not properly interpreting and applying some of the homestead exemptions available to some homeowners. With the help of the County Attorney, we caused the Board of Assessors to change its practices, correct its website and brochures, and enable more citizens to take advantage of the homestead exemptions available under the law.
I also worked with former Rep. Beth Beskin in her successful effort to put a so-called “floating” homestead exemption on the ballot in Atlanta, which the voters approved, to apply to the Atlanta City’s portion of the property tax bill. The floating exemption increases when the valuation increases, greatly reducing net tax increases. Such a floating exemption has applied to the Fulton County and Sandy Springs portions of the tax bill for many years, and the voters recently approved one for the Fulton County Schools portion of the bill. I continue to hope that the Atlanta Board of Education will someday cease its opposition to the floating homestead.
DAFC - From my first year on the BOC, I have brought significantly greater sunshine on the work of the state-created Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC). The DAFC grants tax abatements to developments in Fulton County, many of which would have been built without the abatements, in effect shifting some of the tax burden to homeowners. I convinced the DAFC board to allow public comment, to post fact sheets about the proposed abatements on its website in advance of the meetings, and to describe the projects and abatements in the agendas of their meetings. While the BOC has no oversight of this state-created authority, we do appoint its members and with that power in mind, I sponsored the resolutions that changed the make-up of the DAFC board to allow the two school systems to have seats, because over half of the abated taxes are school board taxes. Finally, after press coverage of the scandal involving “per diems” and other compensation paid to DAFC members, I recently sponsored successful resolutions calling for more public exposure of the per diems paid to the DAFC board, and financial disclosure by the DAFC board members.
TAD’s - Also, I have been concerned that 1/6th of the tax base in Atlanta is inside the myriad tax allocation districts (TAD’s). Other than the small amount of taxes being paid when the TAD is created, which continues to be paid into the general funds of the county, the city and the school board, the taxes paid by the property owners inside a TAD go into the TAD accounts to be used for the purposes for which the TAD was created. Thus, the other taxpayers (including homeowners) pay for the police, fire, zoning, schools, county courts, etc. provided inside the 16.6% of the City of Atlanta that is inside TAD’s. My colleagues elected me as the county’s representative on the Invest Atlanta board, which administers the TAD’s in Atlanta, so that I can monitor the TAD’s, and hopefully urge the city to end those that have served their purposes.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND SUSTAINABILITY
With my background in accounting and law, I emphasize accountability within the agencies reporting to the Fulton County Commission. Through my service on the County’s audit committee I have been able to help establish the whistleblower hotline, and work with the independent internal auditor to monitor and correct potentially trouble spots in the County’s operations. But I also have a vision for the future of our community, a vision that is consistent with Fulton County’s Sustainability Plan adopted in 2019. The plan sets six priority areas to preserve natural resources and improve the County’s resiliency, including climate change mitigation, social equity, smart transit and high-performance County infrastructure.