Arthur Ferdinand was firm and defiant.
He will continue to do so, and he will continue to keep that money.
“Usually, work gets compensation,” Ferdinand told Fulton County commissioners Wednesday, when they questioned new deals with the cities of Mountain Park and Chattahoochee Hills that will add an estimated $3,500 to his salary; and a Johns Creek tax collection renewal worth more than $27,000.
Ferdinand is the highest-paid elected official in the state, making $491,193 a year, a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found. Most of that income is from fees he personally pockets for work conducted by his office.
Ferdinand told the AJC Wednesday that the cities are getting a good deal by having him collect taxes on their behalf, and that Fulton County also benefits.
In 2018, Fulton County received $22.5 million from other cities for his office’s work, or 1% of the total tax money that was collected in the cities, according to Ferdinand.
“It’s state law, and it’s a necessary service the cities want me to provide,” he said. “They probably can’t get that service for that money.”
The comments were the first time in years that Ferdinand has spoken publicly about his salary and the fees. He canceled an interview scheduled earlier this summer with reporters who were investigating the sources of his income.
This week, Ferdinand said he doesn’t care what others get paid for collecting taxes — he knows his own worth.
“Why should I say no thank you?” Ferdinand said. “The county salary that I receive is not commensurate with the responsibilities I have, as far as I’m concerned.”
The pay structure allowed Ferdinand to more than triple his $161,312 base salary. With the fees added in, he makes more than the President of the United States, and triple what Gov. Brian Kemp is paid. When asked at what point the money would be commensurate with the work, Ferdinand declined to answer.
“I’m not trying to sugarcoat this,” he said. “If I’m doing something, I want to be compensated for it. Period.”
The addition of new cities to his contract requires audits, he said, and more work to properly distribute the money. He brushed aside a suggestion that the additional fees go to the office, and not him personally. Ferdinand said he pushes for his employees to get bonuses and pay raises for their work, but regarding the fees, “the state law says it comes to the tax commissioner.”
“I don’t think anybody should work without being properly compensated,” he said.
Commissioners on Wednesday expressed frustration with the new contracts and the fee structure. Two called it “inappropriate” and “fundamentally wrong.” But the contracts were ultimately approved, with a 4-2 vote.
The three new agreements will last 50 years, or until Ferdinand is no longer the county’s tax commissioner.
No one — including county commissioners — questions Ferdinand’s success rate, which is in the high 90-percent range when it comes to collecting taxes. And he does have some support, including from County Commissioner Marvin Arrington, who said he has “no problem” with Ferdinand’s compensation.
But year after year, there is public uproar regarding Ferdinand’s compensation.
“A lot of our constituents think it’s inappropriate,” Commissioner Bob Ellis said. “It’s a valid concern. It’s been written about for years.”
It doesn’t affect Ferdinand.
“You’d be surprised how much support I get on these things,” he said. “I’m a nice guy.”
Ferdinand used to collect more fees, from selling tax liens. State law abolished that source of income in 2017, but Ferdinand has more than made up for it, with the addition of new cities and a $71,000 salary boost that comes from collecting a special 911 emergency services assessment on Atlanta property owners.
It’s all on the up-and-up, he said.
“You’ve got to make sure you don’t do anything that breaks the law in any one of these government jobs,” Ferdinand said.
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