Johns Creek and Milton seek legislative action that would loosen property tax cap

City leaders in Johns Creek and Milton are trying to figure out what it takes to get some credit.

Both cities have laws that place iron-clad caps on property tax rates. As a result, they say it is nearly impossible to float bonds or borrow money to resurface streets or make other major improvements.

Johns Creek officials raised the issue Thursday when they and other north Fulton County city leaders met with local legislators. The legislators have yet to act on charter changes recommended by residents that would simplify rules governing a vote on a tax increase.

“We’re not looking to raise taxes,” Johns Creek City Council member Bev Miller said. “The point of this is whether the taxpayers have a say in the future of their city.”

Under their current city charters, it would require “a majority of all the registered voters” to approve a tax increase in Milton or Johns Creek. That means voter turnout would have to exceed anything either city has seen since they both incorporated six years ago.

As required by legislation, both cities appointed citizen committees last year to recommend changes to their city charters. The volunteer committees recommended changing the tax cap wording to allow a simple majority of voters casting ballots in a referendum.

While Milton, a pastoral city mainly off the main thoroughfares, has been able to meet most of its needs under its tax cap, Johns Creek has scrambled to keep up with its crumbling roads, which experience some of metro Atlanta’s heaviest commuter traffic.

State Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton, told city leaders Thursday that she expects some recommendations from both cities to be approved by the Legislature, but she doesn’t have great interest in changing the wording of the tax cap law.

“If I knew that it would have an effect on the bond rating, then I would consider it a higher interest to me,” Jones said.

Resident Tim Jennette, a member of the Johns Creek citizen charter commission, said he was “disappointed, but we knew from the beginning that we were a recommending body only. My feeling is they’re acting within their rights.”

Resident John Buckett, also a citizen commission member, was less diplomatic.

“We spent well over 70 hours across six months working on this,” he said. “I guess I’m disappointed that the body of work that nine people put into this hasn’t been more quickly addressed by the delegation in the House and Senate.”

Neither Johns Creek nor Milton should feel alone. Last year, Sandy Springs’ citizens proposed nearly two dozen changes to their charter. Only one, allowing for pay raises for the mayor and City Council, was passed by the Legislature.

“This is a state that has always been controlled from the top,” Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos said.

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