Gwinnett tax collection delayed after commissioners miss hearing

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissions gather for a board meeting Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissions gather for a board meeting Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Only two out of five Gwinnett County commissioners showed up in person Monday night to a state-mandated public hearing on the county’s proposed property tax rate, requiring the hearing be rescheduled and tentatively delaying tax collection by about two weeks.

“I want to express my disappointment with not being able to make quorum at our final public hearing yesterday, resulting in our inability to adopt the millage rate today,” said Nicole Love Hendrickson, commission chairwoman, at a Tuesday meeting.

“It is very insulting to everyone who was engaged in this process up to this point,” she added.

Hendrickson and Commissioner Marlene Fosque attended the hearing at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville. Commissioners Kirkland Carden and Ben Ku were absent, citing family conflicts. Commissioner Jasper Watkins, who was out of town, attempted to join virtually but the meeting had to be postponed because a quorum of three commissioners were not present in person, county officials said.

Roughly 25 to 30 people, not including county staffers, came to the hearing, said Deborah Tuff, county spokeswoman.

The county is proposing to keep the general fund tax rate at 6.95 mills, or $6.95 per $1,000 in assessed value. Commissioners will also consider separate property tax rates for emergency services, recreation, code enforcement and economic development. The total property tax rate in unincorporated Gwinnett is now 14.71 mills. Cities and Gwinnett County Public School set additional tax rates.

Because the county would collect more revenue than last year with the same millage rate because of soaring home values, state law requires the commission to announce a property tax increase and hold three public hearings, one of which must take place in the evening.

The evening hearing was rescheduled for Aug. 1 at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville. The county commission was scheduled to adopt a millage rate Tuesday but now plans to do so in an Aug. 2 meeting.

The county must re-publish notices Sunday in its designated legal organ, the Gwinnett Daily Post, to comply with state law. Current ad rates were not immediately available, but last year the county spent about $750 on those legal notices, according to figures Tuff provided.

The Gwinnett tax commissioner’s office bills taxes for the county, Gwinnett County Public Schools and some cities. Bills were scheduled to go out next month with an Oct. 15 due date. If commissioners set the millage rate Aug. 2, bills would go out Sept. 1 with a due date of Nov. 1 under the earliest possible timeline, a spokeswoman said.

Ku said he informed county staff months ago of his conflict and suggested a different date for the evening hearing.

“They seemed to think they’d have a quorum,” he said. “I understand the chairwoman’s frustration.”

Carden said he informed his assistant, who plans his calendar, last month of his conflict and he thought he told County Administrator Glenn Stephens.

“If I’d known my presence would be needed for a quorum, I would have been there,” he said. “I’m not passing the buck on anybody else here. This was a scheduling error on my end.”

After speaking to Stephens and a county attorney, Carden said he didn’t think the delay would affect county operations. Two years ago, tax collections were delayed until December due to COVID-19 shutdowns.

The tax commissioner’s office bills for Peachtree Corners, the largest city in Gwinnett. Louis Svehla, city spokesman, said a two-week delay would not be a problem.

“We feel like we’re in really good financial shape, so we don’t expect it will affect us in any way,” Svehla said.