Judge's tax decision may come Friday

A Superior Court judge may decide as early as Friday whether to grant Gwinnett County a temporary collection order for 2009 taxes.

Judge R. Timothy Hamil said Tuesday that he will await special action by the County Commission to adopt a temporary millage rate before issuing the order.

The county is seeking permission to issue tax notices to residents so that local governments can begin receiving revenues. The notices have been stalled because the county cannot set a tax levy on property until it resolves a service dispute with its 15 cities.

The temporary millage rate the county had requested in the order would have meant different tax rates for residents of the county’s cities vs. its unincorporated areas. The county proposed a millage rate of 10.94 for taxpayers in unincorporated Gwinnett County and 12.00 for taxpayers in cities.

Under the proposal, city residents would have paid as much as $74 more in county property taxes on a $200,000 home.

The county’s basis for the different rates involves collection of special taxes on life insurance premiums, which unincorporated residents pay to the county.

The county argued Tuesday that state law requires unincorporated residents be reimbursed for the difference.

When Hamil indicated he was inclined to overrule a two-tiered millage rate, chief assistant county attorney Van Stephens said the county would offer up a compromise to find common ground with the cities.

After an hour of deliberations between Stephens and the dozen or so attorneys in the courtroom representing the cities, the county agreed to apply a uniform rate of 11.19 mills.

But Hamil balked at the proposal, saying he was concerned about setting a rate higher than the 2008 rate of 10.97 mills. Before he issues a temporary collection order, he said, he wants the county to formally recommend the rate, saying that is the appropriate jurisdiction for setting mill levies.

County tax notices usually are mailed out by mid-July, and the delay has left many local governments in a bind. Gwinnett school officials have said they may have to draw on their reserves or borrow money if tax revenues are delayed much longer.

A temporary collection order allows local governments to bill property taxes without an approved tax digest from the state revenue commissioner. The state has not certified Gwinnett’s tax digest primarily because the county has not set a formal millage rate.