Gwinnett taxpayers may be excited about the tax debate launched in the Gwinnett County commission chairman's race, but city leaders are asking the candidates to proceed with caution.
Berkeley Lake Mayor Lois Salter, who is leading the Gwinnett Municipal Association, issued a press release last week saying 14 of the county's mayors oppose the homestead option sales tax, which was pitched by Lorraine Green earlier this month.
"HOST would inflict great damage on Gwinnett County for years to come," Salter said. "Before making such major changes that will affect us all for a very long time, the responsible thing to do is to study what's happened elsewhere.
"Only two counties, DeKalb and Rockdale, have implemented HOST, and in both instances, the HOST has failed to deliver on its hype. Neither county is now able to fully relieve homeowners of county operating taxes as once promised. Both counties have had to reinstitute homeowner property taxes to fund their shortfalls. Meanwhile, commercial property owners are taxed at even higher rates."
Green, a county commissioner vying for the Republican nomination for chairman against incumbent Charles Bannister and newcomer Glenn Pirkle, held a press conference in front of the historic courthouse in Lawrenceville two weeks ago to announce her tax plan.
She said the 1 percent HOST would generate $157 million a year, enough to offer a 100 percent homestead exemption and eliminate the county's stormwater fee.
Bannister proposes cutting property taxes in half and replacing them with a 1 percent local option sales tax.
"HOST is a failed tax policy experiment," Salter said. "We hope Gwinnett County leaders will recognize in this economy, with gas prices topping $4 per gallon, that freezing out businesses that employ people close to home is a bad public policy. We need to embrace businesses and good jobs, not create a hostile climate for them."
Green said her tax plan does nothing to impact city or school revenues, and she said comparisons to DeKalb and Rockdale are unfounded.
"That's been the (Georgia Municipal Association's) position, but I think if you look at the numbers for Gwinnett County it's different," she said. "Gwinnett has the perfect scenario for HOST. We are a very different model from DeKalb. ... We are a major retail destination."
She added, "It's difficult to understand why any Republican elected official would oppose property tax relief for their citizens. "
Salter said DeKalb and Rockdale counties saw a wave of residential development when the new tax plan was implemented, but officials were not able to keep up with the needed infrastructure because of revenue problems.
"We, as leaders of Gwinnett's cities, are committed to ensure the long-term economic health for all county stakeholders," she said. "HOST simply shifts taxes around and encourages development that doesn't pay for itself. That would be extremely harmful and would earn Gwinnett a reputation for being anti-business. None of us should be for that."
Political Notebook appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post.