Governor signs law to keep Gwinnett tax commissioner from raising fees

A bill that stops the Gwinnett County tax commissioner from padding her salary with fees for collecting taxes for cities was signed into law Monday.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature on Senate Bill 201 means Gwinnett cities that use Tax Commissioner Tiffany Porter’s office to do the work will negotiate their contracts with the county government instead of the tax commissioner.

Porter will be required to collect the taxes, but won’t be party to the agreement.

Porter, a Democrat who was elected in November, caused an uproar earlier this year when she approached leaders in eight Gwinnett cities to tell them she intended to raise their rates for tax collections. The increases included a $2-per-parcel fee that would have boosted Porter’s $141,098 salary by an additional $110,734.

The increase would have made Porter the highest-paid elected official in Gwinnett County. A spokesperson for Porter said the tax commissioner had no comment on the law being signed.

Butch Sanders, Snellville’s city manager, said he expected the county to negotiate an increase in the rate for tax collection services that would cost Snellville about 15% more this year.

“The mayor and council have said they would enter into that agreement,” he said. “We’re moving forward with a positive attitude.”

The bipartisan legislation, which passed on the final day of the legislative session, is targeted at tax commissioners in Gwinnett and Fulton counties.

Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand has charged fees to cities in that county for years, but will be unaffected by the new law because it can’t be applied retroactively to existing contracts.

In 2019, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Ferdinand made $491,193, despite having a base salary of $161,312. Since then, he inked agreements that raised his salary by an additional $30,000.

State Rep. Donna McLeod, D-Lawrenceville, said she was concerned the bill targeted two large counties with high populations of minority residents. She voted for it, though, to stop Porter from making agreements with the cities that couldn’t be changed.

“My first instinct is always to protect my taxpayers,” McLeod said. “If (Porter) had said, ‘I’m going to take the $2 increase ... and make sure my employees are getting paid adequately,’ we could probably see that a little bit better. But to find out that it was mainly to get her salary up to almost double? No, that was unacceptable to me.”

Legislators have long tried to limit the ability of tax commissioners to enhance their salaries through such fees.

Chuck Warbington, the Lawrenceville city manager, said he expected the Legislature would look to expand the bill’s reach next session. He said there was an “immediate need” for it to pass this session to keep Porter from signing new contracts.

“At the end of the day, this was good legislation,” said Gwinnett County Commissioner Kirkland Carden. “This is about protecting the taxpayers.”

Carden, whose mother Regina Carden ran for tax commissioner against Porter in the primary, said he was pleased that Democrats and Republicans were able to agree on the need for a change and quickly take action. He said there is “plenty of time” to negotiate the new rates and still get tax bills out on time.

Last year, Porter’s predecessor collected for Berkeley Lake, Dacula, Grayson, Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Peachtree Corners, Snellville and Sugar Hill. Some cities are considering or already plan to collect their own taxes going forward.

“This law needed to be changed, and I’m very proud of the work that we did to get this bill passed,” said state Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula. “I think it was an important message to send that tax commissioners should follow their responsibilities as set with the service agreements between county and city governments.”