LAWRENCEVILLE -- Legislation that could keep governments from adding fees to property tax bills could cost Gwinnett's stormwater utility up to half a million dollars.
Members of the local stormwater authority, which was created in 2007 to oversee the management of the county's 1,300 miles of drainage system, submitted a resolution and letter to members of the General Assembly expressing their concern with H.B. 159, a bill authored by Snellville Rep. Brett Harrell to take the non-tax fees off of property tax bills.
Not only would the change force the county to establish a duplicate billing system expected to cost $535,000 in its first year and $435,000 in subsequent years, but the authority members said they would expect an increase in delinquencies reducing annual revenues between $3 million and $6 million.
"Adequately maintained storm-water infrastructure is critical to the support of our transportation system and to the protection of public safety through the prevention of flooding," authority chairman Scott Batterton said in the letter to legislators. "Passage of the bill into law will lower revenues thereby causing either a disproportionate sharing of the burden of managing these public assets or reducing the amount of storm sewer system that can be rehabilitated or replaced, which in turn will increase the county's risk and liability."
The letter, submitted via email, prompted several public officials to tell legislators they agree with the proposal, including County Commissioner Tommy Hunter, a former member of the county's water and sewerage authority, Snellville Councilman Dave Emanuel and Lilburn Councilman Thomas Wight. (Batterton is also a Lilburn councilman and serves on the county authority because the city has partnered with the organization.)
"The purpose of HB 159 is not allow local governments to more efficiently increase the burden county, municipal governments and government agencies place on residents," Wight said in an email. "The bill is designed to hold local government to a higher standard than the standard of mere expediency. The costs of HB 159 are negligible. The benefits are two fold: (1) It puts the rule of law above expediency; (2) It assists residents to clearly differentiate between taxes and non-tax fees."
Lilburn Councilman Tim Dunn sided with Batterton and the authority, where members voted unanimously to oppose the bill.
"The cost to city government to duplicate a billing process is not negligible. If this bill passes, citizens will be able to differentiate between fees and the increase in taxes to pay for the redundant system," he said. "The current billing differentiates already between taxes and assessments (not taxes)."