Legal action expected in Gwinnett County tax commissioner dispute

Gwinnett County Commissioner Kirkland Carden said he expects Tax Commissioner Tiffany Porter to take legal action after a new agreement was reached between the county and Grayson for Porter to collect the city's taxes. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) AJC FILE PHOTO

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

caption arrowCaption
Gwinnett County Commissioner Kirkland Carden said he expects Tax Commissioner Tiffany Porter to take legal action after a new agreement was reached between the county and Grayson for Porter to collect the city's taxes. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) AJC FILE PHOTO

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J

A Gwinnett County commissioner said he expects legal action after Grayson leaders approved a tax collection agreement without the approval of Tax Commissioner Tiffany Porter.

“She’s already said point blank, ‘I don’t like the deal with Grayson; I’m not going to do it,’” County Commissioner Kirkland Carden said Thursday. “This will end in court.”

The Grayson agreement comes after months of discussions between Porter, a Democrat elected in November, and eight Gwinnett County cities that used the office to collect taxes and other fees.

State legislators hastily wrote legislation meant to stop Porter from padding her salary with fees for collecting city taxes after she proposed a $2-per-parcel fee to do the work. Her initial proposal would have increased her $141,098 salary by an additional $110,734.

But the law did not take into account the storm water, solid waste and streetlight fees that are also collected on some tax bills, and Porter said she would not collect those fees without additional payment, according to an email she sent to attorneys for the county and the Gwinnett Municipal Association that was obtained through an open records request.

Grayson does not collect those fees, and moved forward with an agreement under the new state law that Porter was not a party to.

After Grayson’s city council voted unanimously Thursday to use Porter’s office to collect the city’s taxes — but not to pay her additional fees — Mayor Allison Wilkerson said she had not heard of Porter’s intent regarding a lawsuit.

In a statement, Wilkerson said she was grateful the county would continue to collect property taxes, which she said “is the most efficient use of taxpayer funds.”

Porter, in an email, said coverage of the cities’ tax collection concerns had been “skewed,” but did not respond to a request for comment about Grayson’s agreement, or ongoing negotiations with Berkeley Lake, Dacula or Peachtree Corners — the other cities for which Porter has said she would not collect fees without additional payment.

Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason said that city intends to pay Porter $2 a parcel to collect taxes because the cost not to do so would be higher.

“It’s a business decision,” he said. “You try to just make the best business decision you can, whether you agree with it or not.”

Brian Johnson, Peachtree Corners’ city manager, said the city has a high response rate for payment because the fees that it charges go out on county property tax bills. But Peachtree Corners doesn’t charge a property tax, and Johnson said he would expect collections to go down if people are only asked to pay fees.

He said the city would have to pay more to hire people to do the work, and there would be little recourse if collections dropped. The cost to the city could be as much as $1 million.

“You have to disassociate yourself emotionally from the fact that it ‘doesn’t seem fair,’” Mason said. “Get over it.”

But there are still frustrations about Porter’s actions.

Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, said legislators’ intent was clear: Tax commissioners shouldn’t charge per-parcel fees while collecting taxes to raise their own salaries. He said legislators next year will look to change the law, if Porter doesn’t change her mind first.

“There’s been an outpouring of opposition from the public to this,” he said. “I certainly hope the tax commissioner reconsiders her position and further work to address it isn’t necessary.”

Carden, the Gwinnett County commissioner, said he wants to see a provision in the three cities’ agreements that would break out the salary increase for Porter as a line item on tax bills. He also wants the contract to require Porter to reach a certain collection threshold before she gets paid.

Carden’s mother, Regina Carden, ran for tax commissioner and lost to Porter in the primary.

“I’m disappointed Ms. Porter continues to use her talents to personally enrich herself and not to serve Gwinnett County,” Carden said. “This is wrong.”

County commissioners are scheduled to vote on Porter’s contracts with three cities June 15, all of which would include a per-parcel fee that would net her an additional $34,000. Four other cities — Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Snellville and Sugar Hill — decided to collect taxes on their own rather than pay Porter to do so.

About the Author

Editors' Picks