Forum: Mayors say it’s critical for residents to join fight against Fulton over sales revenue

A panel of eight mayors took part in a Roswell town hall Wednesday to inform the public on what’s at stake if 15 cities and the Fulton Board of Commissioners do not reach an agreement on the renegotiation of Local Option Sales Tax revenue.

The LOST is a one-penny sales tax that local governments use to pay for such services as police and fire, transportation, recreation and parks, and more. Currently, Fulton cities’ collectively share 95% of LOST revenue, leaving the county less than 5%. Fulton wants to increase its share to 35%.

An increase in property taxes and a reduction in services would likely occur if cities are hit with such a dramatic drop in revenue, officials said.

“I don’t think most people realize how critical this issue is because it’s mostly been negotiated behind closed doors to this point,” Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin told the crowd gathered in Roswell City Hall chambers. “A total of $3 billion of sales tax revenue generated from the cities over the next 10 years is at risk.”

Roswell Mayor Kurt Wilson hosted the forum, which drew about 130 residents in person and hundreds more online. Steve Gehlback with Channel 2 Action News moderated the discussion.

Wilson, Gilvin and mayors Rusty Paul of Sandy Springs; John Bradberry of Johns Creek; Peyton Jamison of Milton; and Jim Still of Mountain Park were joined by East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham and College Park Mayor Bianca Motley Broom.

Fulton Commissioner Liz Hausmann was the only county board member to accept the invitation to attend and participate.

She said Fulton’s initial proposal in July to increase its share of revenue to 35% was wrong and set a negative tone for negotiations.

“I do feel like we can work this out … if we start having real conversations,” Hausmann said. “There are needs that we all have in our individual jurisdictions … Nobody wants to raise taxes.”

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Speaking from the audience Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, said that if the commissioners don’t work out a fair agreement he would resolve the issue through the legislature.

The parties began negotiations in July and are scheduled to enter mediation on Friday. If no agreement is reached a second mediation date is scheduled for Oct. 7. State law requires a renegotiation of the distribution of LOST revenue every 10 years and officials are facing a Dec. 30 deadline.

In negotiations, the county has offered three options, Paul said, two of which would require the cities see no growth in their share of revenue for years or until Fulton reaches at least a 25% share of revenue. The other option would give Fulton a 6% share that would increase to 25% over 10 years.

“With inflation, our buying power for our police, fire department, parks and recreation and all the other things that are covered by this would be zero at the end of 10 years,” Paul said.

Paul and other officials urged residents to contact their Fulton commissioner to discuss concerns about LOST.

During a Q&A residents criticized county officials, saying they are not being responsive to citizens questions and needs and mismanaging their own budget.

Resident Dave Woodrow said it was “inexcusable” that Hausmann was the sole commissioner to attend the town hall.

“... Personally, I have an interest in this. It is critical,” Woodrow said. “I personally have called Commissioner (Bob) Ellis’ office multiple times and I have not gotten any kind of a response.”

The Fulton Board of Commissioners will have an opportunity to take part in another townhall LOST, next Wednesday, at the Georgia International Convention Center, located at 2000 Convention Center Concourse in College Park.

The panel will include officials from Chattahoochee Hills, College Park, East Point, Fairburn, Hapeville, Palmetto, South Fulton, Union City as well as north Fulton.

Kiplyn Primus, host of WCLK’s “The Local Take” will moderate the 7 p.m. event.