Green unveils relief plan
Candidate wants to replace property tax with sales tax

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County Commissioner Lorraine Green on Monday announced a tax relief plan that would eliminate homeowners' county property taxes.

Green said the property taxes would be replaced with a 1 percent sales tax - the homestead option sales tax, or HOST. She said she anticipates the sales tax could generate $157 million a year, enough to offer homeowners a 100 percent homestead exemption and eliminate the stormwater fee. Gwinnett County collected $242 million in property tax revenue in the 2008 fiscal year, of which $107 million came from owner-occupied residential property, Green said.

The plan would have to be approved by voters, but a referendum could appear on ballots as early as next spring. Green said she plans to push forward with this plan if elected chairwoman of the Gwinnett County Commission. She's running against Charles Bannister, the current Commission chairman, who said he had the idea first, and Glenn Pirkle, an electrical contractor for Buford, in the Republican primary on July 15.

If the plan is approved, the sales tax would have to be collected for a year before the property taxes could be rolled back, Green said. The money collected through the sales tax would be used for capital programs - and Green said she wants to build a county-operated rail transit system to relieve traffic congestion.

Green said the tax relief plan is a cornerstone in her campaign.

"My tax relief plan would shift the cost of paying for county government away from homeowners and toward those who visit the county to shop," Green said. "Estimates are that as much as 40 percent of the money raised by a sales tax is paid by people who do not live in Gwinnett. My plan also would allow us to shift some of the burden to illegal immigrants who live here but currently avoid paying taxes."

Bannister said he did not want to comment on Green's plan Monday afternoon because he had not seen it. He said he is working on his own tax relief plan.

"She has got that idea from discussions here that I have done, which is not uncommon for her," he said.

Bannister said he has talked about his plan in public forums and included information in a mail piece sent out last week. Bannister's plan isn't HOST - it's LOST, or Local Option Sales Tax. His plan calls for cutting the county millage rate in half and replacing the revenue with a 1 percent sales tax.

When asked about Bannister's accusation that she stole his idea, Green said, "It is absolutely 100 percent my plan."

"I have never heard anything about this topic from Chairman Bannister," she added.

In a news release sent out Monday afternoon, Bannister said, "I would like to welcome Lorraine's support on this issue. Being that she said she was opposed to tax cuts just a month ago, I am glad she has finally come on board to support my idea to support tax cuts for homeowners.

"However, I think she should show enough respect for the people of Gwinnett to be honest with them," his statement continued. "This isn't her idea, and it is dishonest to say it is."

Green said she has been working on her plan for four or five months.

Before a referendum makes it onto ballots, it would first have to be approved by the state legislature.

The plans would not affect property taxes levied by the Gwinnett County Board of Education. School system officials anticipate collecting $622 million in property taxes during the 2009 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Pirkle was unable to be reached for comment.