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Commission fails to set millage rate

LAWRENCEVILLE - Commissioners again voted down a higher millage rate Wednesday, but for the second time this year, they did not approve a tax rate.

The board convened in a special session a day after a judge considering the temporary collection of taxes asked for the board's preference for a temporary rate.

After the judge rejected a proposed dual tax rate for citizens of unincorporated and incorporated areas, Assistant County Attorney Van Stephens asked for a rate of 11.18 mills.

While the number is higher than the 2008 rate of 10.97 mills, a $920 million drop in the county's tax digest due to sinking property values meant the county would have collected about the same amount in taxes.

But Stephens told commissioners that an order was being drafted to collect using the 10.97 mills rate, which would give the county about $6.2 million less in 2009.

In an e-mail among attorneys, Stephens said the difference could mean the cutting of a police quality of life unit and the 287(g) immigration program to allow deputies to begin deportation proceedings on inmates in the country illegally. Both are popular programs spared under recent budget cuts.

"The board did not want to give the public the appearance they would have a tax increase with having a different opinion at a later date," Chairman Charles Bannister said after the board voted against the proposed resolution asking for a temporary rate of 11.18.

Already a month behind in the delivery of tax bills, county officials said they have not set a millage rate because of a legal dispute with cities over services.

The county is already $50 million in arrears, and school officials said they would be in the hole $114 million by the end of the year if a temporary tax collection is not fulfilled. The move would allow a temporary rate to be set, and when commissioners set the final rate, taxpayers could be issued a refund or a second set of bills.

Walt Britt, an attorney who was leading several cities' efforts to intervene on the collection to oppose the proposed dual rate, said Judge Timothy Hamil called earlier in the day asking for a draft motion to include the 2008 rate.

"(The judge) may act pretty quickly in light of this stupidity," Britt said after the commission meeting, admonishing leaders for failing to vote on a rate they would prefer. "They are a bunch of idiots."