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Fulton County hires former AG Olens to help solve property tax dispute

Fulton County will hire former Attorney General Sam Olens to help solve a dispute with the state Department of Revenue that has delayed the approval of the county’s 2017 tax digest.

Dick Anderson, Fulton’s county manager, said the county is “trying to find a middle ground” with the Department of Revenue and he think Olens will be able to help with that effort.

Last summer, after angry residents mobbed county meetings demanding county commissioners reduce their high property values, the county attorney said she found a law from the 1880s that gave commissioners the ability to modify the tax digest. Using that law as a basis, commissioners froze most 2017 residential property values at 2016 levels.

The Department of Revenue rejected the county’s tax digest in October, saying it was “questionable” whether county leaders “had the legal authority” to affect property values.

Fulton leaders originally planned to go to court to defend the action, but county attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker in May withdrew her request in Fulton County Superior Court to compel the Department of Revenue to approve the tax digest. At the time, she said she intended to re-file the request.

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With Olens’ appointment, that may no longer be the case.

Anderson said he hoped Olens’ experience as attorney general could help Fulton leaders resolve the constitutional question with the state outside of a courtroom.

“As a practical matter, we’d all like to see this resolved,” Anderson said. “We’d like to avoid litigation.”

Wednesday, county commissioners agreed to keep Olens on a $20,000 retainer until Aug. 15, when they hope to file the 2018 tax digest. His services will cost Fulton County $450 an hour.

Olens, who is now an attorney at Dentons in the firm’s public policy practice, was president of Kennesaw State University for a tumultuous year after leaving his state government post. Before being elected attorney general in 2010, Olens was chairman of the Cobb County commission for eight years and had served as chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission. Olens did not respond to several phone calls seeking comment about his work for Fulton County.

His work alone will not be enough to solve Fulton’s tax digest issues. In addition to the constitutional question, there are also technical problems with the digest that the county is still working to resolve.

Fulton County intends to send 2018 property tax bills by mid-September, but it is unclear whether this year’s digest will be held up by 2017’s. Last year, the county needed a temporary collection order before tax bills could be sent.

Anderson, the county manager, said he was “hopeful” the 2017 tax issue would be resolved soon.

“I feel like we’re at the end of the tunnel here,” he said.

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