Groups organize more tax protests
Analysis on proposed increase to be released Oct. 23

LAWRENCEVILLE - They listened once.

Debbie Dooley hopes officials will listen again, as she organizes residents to speak out against a Gwinnett County property tax hike, the second proposal to come this year.

It is back to work for members of FreedomWorks and Citizens for Responsible Government, who organized tea parties to protest a proposed 3 mill tax increase this spring, and believes residents have a responsibility to ask questions again.

"Far too often when government is denied a tax increase, they will try to cause pain for the taxpayer but cutting essential services and other services that the taxpayer considers a priority (retaliatory cuts)," she wrote in a press release. "They do this in hope that the taxpayer will agree to the tax increase."

Since the tea party protests earlier this year, county officials opted out of the tax increase, instead cutting services. That lead to another outcry, as library hours were cut, police units were rearranged and newly built fire stations were left empty.

Commissioner Kevin Kenerly said earlier this week that the cuts have been too severe, and he called for county staffers to study a new tax increase to cover the expenses.

While Finance Director Aaron Bovos said officials have not determined how much revenue would be needed to fund public safety, the courts and other programs at previous levels, Kenerly asked people to sacrifice $14 a month, or about 2 additional mills.

"It has become crystal clear to me in recent weeks that we are cutting badly needed programs - services our residents rely on - and that those cuts are hurting families," Kenerly said. "Bold action is needed to keep Gwinnett County a preferred place to live, work and raise a family. I would ask the Gwinnett families to sacrifice with me."

While they did not say whether they would support the increase, other commissioners agreed with Kenerly's analysis, except for Mike Beaudreau.

Bovos said an analysis of the potential increase will be available Oct. 23, about a week before FreedomWorks and Gwinnett Citizens for Responsible Government will host a town hall forum on the topic.

The county must also hold a public hearing before adopting a rate increase, Bovos said.

While the proposal earlier this year included different rates for people who live inside city limits and those in unincorporated Gwinnett, Bovos said officials have not decided if the new proposal will contain differing rates. At this point, he said he expects one rate to be adopted, as it has in the past, but that could change based on direction from commissioners.

Dooley pointed out that residents have already seen a $200 to $300 increase in their tax bills, which were issued after a judge set a temporary millage rate this summer. The increase happened after state officials did not renew a homeowner's tax relief grant, and Dooley said people can't afford more in the faltering economy.

She encouraged people to send suggestions for cost savings and ways to generate revenue to gwinnettbudgetcuts@gmail.com. Those suggestions are expected to be discussed at the town hall meeting, slated for 7 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center.

"We do not believe all the budget cuts have been responsible nor do we believe that all options have been fully exhausted before requesting a tax increase," she said. "The Board of Commissioners, to their credit, has demonstrated that they will listen when the taxpayers speak loudly and en masse. We urge them to listen to alternative suggestions from the Gwinnett County taxpayers before raising taxes by 2 mills."