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BOC takes revenue plan to legislators

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Concerns from Gwinnett cities could hamper a county initiative to change state law to collect a penny sales tax and roll back property taxes for half of the revenues.

Gwinnett commissioners are seeking the change from the current local option sales tax law, which currently requires property taxes to be rolled back for all of the revenues a sales tax would bring in.

Chairman Charles Bannister took his plea to the county's legislative delegation at the Capitol on Wednesday, but mayors from the Gwinnett Municipal Association said they oppose the plan.

"Basically it's a tax increase. The half a cent goes into operation," Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson said, adding that mayors from the 15 cities would support a vote on the current LOST law, allowing a rollback of the entire amount.

While Bannister said the change would allow the county to give some property tax relief and also add revenue to stave off the need for a property tax increase, Johnson said the county's recent property tax increase could make the idea unpopular.

"We're really playing a shell game," Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, said, describing the proposal. "That's the enticement. We give you half, so you can give us more."

Because of the number of out-of-county residents who shop at local malls, which is estimated at 35 percent, and because sales taxes hit illegal immigrants and others who don't pay property taxes, Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said the LOST proposal is a tax fairness issue.

"I think you'll see the tax burden on county residents go down," he said.

But legislators said the risk of the proposition is whether people will pay more in total taxes in the end.

"I don't think this is a city vs. county thing," Suwanee Mayor Dave Williams said. "If the goal is to provide less tax relief, then this solves it."

County and city officials have been embroiled in a lawsuit over service delivery for nearly a year, and Johnson, who is the chair of the Gwinnett Municipal Association, said city leaders were not consulted over the proposal. If the idea passes, city and county leaders would have to agree on a way to share the proceeds.

Rep. Clay Cox, R-Lilburn, set up a task force on the issue, vowing to bring together Johnson and assistant county attorney Van Stephens with himself and Rep. Lee Thompson, D-Lawrenceville, who serves as a city attorney for Duluth and has litigated a LOST matter before the Georgia Supreme Court.

"I'm for sales tax funding all government," Cox said, although he did not give an opinion on the proposed change. "I think property taxes and income taxes are immoral."