Fulton tax commissioner’s fees in dispute, will delay tax collection

Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand did not want to negotiate on a $1 per parcel fee he can earn for collecting taxes in South Fulton. JASON GETZ / AJC FILE PHOTO

Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand did not want to negotiate on a $1 per parcel fee he can earn for collecting taxes in South Fulton. JASON GETZ / AJC FILE PHOTO

Tax collection in the new city of South Fulton is in limbo after Fulton county commissioners balked at an agreement that would pay Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand an additional $1 per parcel for doing the work.

Ferdinand, who is the highest-paid elected official in the state in part because of such fees, said Wednesday that he would not negotiate a deal that would deny him the money that state law says he can collect.

“I am open to the law, and the law says I will be compensated,” he said.

State law allows Ferdinand and other tax commissioners to collect the fees as part of their salary. Dan Ray, the executive director for the Georgia Association of Tax Officials, said previously that tax commissioners deserve high compensation because they handle so much public money.

Ferdinand earned about $390,000 last year, a total that included $210,281 in $1 fees for collecting taxes in Johns Creek, Sandy Springs and Atlanta. Atlanta paid him the largest amount, $152,865.

South Fulton has 40,596 taxable parcels, according to the county tax assessor’s office.

Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann said she could not support an agreement that allowed Ferdinand to add an additional $40,000 to his salary, calling it problematic. Money should go to the county, and not to individuals, she said.

“The issue is not the fee, the issue is where the fee goes,” Hausmann said. “I wish you were more willing to look at a different structure.”

County commissioners have to approve the agreement for Ferdinand to collect taxes for South Fulton, a new city that incorporated this spring. They decided Wednesday to delay a vote on the agreement until August in the hopes of negotiating another agreement. In the meantime, county attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker said, taxes would not be collected on South Fulton’s behalf.

“I just hope we don’t jeopardize the new city with this decision,” Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said. “…We’ve got to figure something out. I don’t want 100,000 residents of the new city to be a victim of an ideological tug of war.”

South Fulton Mayor Bill Edwards did not return several phone calls seeking comment about the fee. Because the law allows the county tax commissioner to collect fees only from cities, Ferdinand did not charge any additional money to the area when it was part of unincorporated Fulton County.

In Johns Creek, spokesman Jeff Breslau said the city paid Ferdinand $26,670 in $1 fees last year. The city elects to use Ferdinand’s services for efficiency’s sake, Breslau said, to keep residents from getting multiple tax bills.

Ferdinand is not the only tax commissioner to collect the fee. In DeKalb County, Tax Commissioner Irvin Johnson collected $113,000 in fees from 10 cities last year for a total salary of $285,781. Tax commissioners in Gwinnett and Cobb counties don’t receive salary supplements from cities.

Earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly passed a law that curtailed some other fees Ferdinand was collecting. It eliminated a 50-cent fee that also went to the tax commissioner every time he sold a tax lien. Between 2011 and 2015, Ferdinand collected more than $200,000 as a result of that fee. He continued to collect it through July 1, the effective date of the new law.

Ferdinand earlier this year had proposed a different agreement that distributed the South Fulton payment among his staff. Members of South Fulton’s city council approved that agreement in May, though county commissioners were opposed to it.

Hausmann, the county commissioner, said her opposition was nothing personal. Ferdinand does “a great job collecting taxes,” she said, but her north Fulton constituents are opposed to the $1 fee.

“Other people like the job I do also, and they pay for it,” Ferdinand said.

Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this article.

Fees collected from Fulton County cities by tax commissioner Arthur Ferdinand in 2016:

Atlanta - $152,865

Sandy Springs - $30,746

Johns Creek - $26,670

Source: Fulton County tax commissioner’s office

The AJC's Arielle Kass keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Fulton County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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In other Fulton tax news:

The Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted to freeze high property taxes at 2016 levels.