To set the stage so to speak, there is absolutely nothing wrong with counties and municipalities throughout the State of Georgia collecting non-tax fees on annual ad valorem property tax statements. These non-tax fees, which support public services such as street lights, stormwater service, speed humps, trash collection and, in some locales, public safety, are necessitated in part to provide some of the core services of county and municipal governments. Collections on the annual property tax statements are a convenient way for residents to pay and for county or municipal governments to collect whether through escrow accounts on mortgages or via direct payment. These non-tax fees are obligations that must be met whether paid on property tax statements or via separate billing. Keep in mind, that if House Bill 159 should pass (heaven forbid), any increase in costs to effect separate billing would be passed onto the taxpayers.
With that out of the way, let me explain how this legislation making its way through the 2013 session of the General Assembly came up on my radar. As a current member of the Gwinnett County Stormwater Authority, we members were advised at our quarterly meeting on Jan. 25 that 106th District Rep. Brett Harrell (R-Snellville) had filed a notice of intent to introduce local legislation to remove only the stormwater service fee from the annual Gwinnett County ad valorem property tax statements. Keep in mind that this intent was to file local legislation through the Gwinnett County Legislative Delegation, which is comprised of the state representatives and state senators who represent Gwinnett County. As such local delegations have their own rules. Most are 50 percent + 1 to pass local legislation.
During our Jan. 25 meeting, with a full quorum of seven members present, county staffers from the stormwater utility division advised us that if separate billing of the stormwater service fee was initiated, we could incur additional expenses of as much as $3.5 million in reduced collections, increased billing costs, increased staffing, new billing system development, etc. Ongoing, since the inception of the stormwater service fee, our rate of collection stands at 99 percent. For you Gwinnett County residents, this is a matter of public record. Our stormwater utility is funded entirely from stormwater service fees collected via the annual property tax billing. We could ill afford to lose revenue via separate billing as our mission is not only in maintaining the countywide stormwater drainage system, but also in meeting Georgia Environmental Protection Division mandates. These obligations must be met. Therefore, any increase in costs to operate our utility would be passed onto the taxpayers. Same scenario on the statewide legislation introduced via House Bill 159.
As previously stated, Harrell’s local legislation was directed only at removing the stormwater service fee from the annual Gwinnett County ad valorem property tax statements. The reason for this is that the Stormwater Authority was created via Senate Bill 147, which mandated that the stormwater service fee be collected on the property tax bill. Since this constitutes local legislation, SB 147 would have to be amended accordingly to compliment HB 159. Harrell’s House Bill 159 is a statewide bill to remove all non-tax fees from property tax bills collected by county and municipal governments. I, as a resident of Gwinnett County adamantly oppose Harrell’s local legislation and his House Bill 159. I trust you other residents throughout the state of Georgia will let your state representative and state senator know that you likewise oppose House Bill 159. To do otherwise would mean that any additional costs to effect separate billing for non-tax fees would be passed onto “We the People,” aka taxpayers. Ladies and gentlemen, it is that simple.
Harrell introduced this same legislation as House Bill 291 in February 2011. His bill was passed out of the Ways and Means Committee in March 2011, and after much opposition from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association, House Bill 291 was withdrawn in April 2011. House Bill 291 was not reconsidered during the 2012 session. Said bill effectively “died on the vine” in 2012. The ACCG and the GMA have announced their opposition to House Bill 159.
Each of you have heard the old saying that “all that glitters is not gold.” While on the surface House Bill 159 may seem to “glitter,” this bill is not gold. The only “gold” that would be associated with Harrell’s local legislation and House Bill 159 would be that which would come out of the taxpayers wallets and pocketbooks to offset the increase cost of separate billing and loss in revenues.
Jimmy Orr is a resident of Bethlehem.