“I decided to run mostly for fiscal reasons,” Ellis, an insurance executive, said. “The budget hadn’t been balanced in past years without dipping into reserves, and the reserves are dwindling.” He also stated that taxpayers have no “appetite” for a tax increase, despite the 17 percent hike the current Board recently passed (by a 4-3 vote).
Ellis called the current commission a “fairly dysfunctional governing body”. Among its challenges, he said, is that the board has “a lot of turnover in key areas of county government” as it tries to manage issues involving poverty, mental health, crime, and aging communities.
The commission controls a general fund which must go to mandated services like managing courts and jails, elections, and water usage, and providing public health and human services. Revenues also support Grady Hospital, MARTA transportation, the library system and the arts.
While Ellis promised fiscal responsibility and collaboration to fix Fulton, he didn’t say much about resolving the power struggle between state legislators and current commissioners.
In fact, the 17 percent tax increase approved by the current commission leadership is challenged in a lawsuit by North Fulton lawmakers, who sponsored House Bill 604 last year. The bill effectively forbids the county from raising taxes until 2015, and then only by a super majority of five or more commissioners. Lawmakers claim in the lawsuit that the commission has broken this law.
As a response, John Eaves, chairman of the county commission, has commented that the commission hasn’t raised taxes in decades, and doing so now is within their purview.
A Cobb County Superior Court judge sided with Fulton County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 18, leaving the 17 percent rise intact. Time will now tell how the legislators will react, and how the new Board, with Ellis as a member, will respond.