New Gwinnett tax commissioner gets salary boost for city collection

County’s top tax official continues controversial practice of collecting personal fees for handling municipal billing

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners recently approved a contract that adds about $30,000 to Tax Commissioner Denise Mitchell’s salary — compensation for collecting taxes and other fees from property owners in Gwinnett’s largest city.

Mitchell is continuing the legal, but controversial practice of her predecessor, Tiffany Porter, in collecting personal fees for her office handling municipal billing. Porter attempted to charge eight Gwinnett cities similar fees when she took office last year, causing an outcry and leading seven of the cities to terminate contracts with her.

Porter died in May after a long battle with recurring cancer. At the time of her death, Peachtree Corners was the only city that still paid her personal fees.

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County commissioners voted unanimously earlier this month to approve a contract that substitutes Mitchell’s name for Porter’s, awarding Mitchell $2 per parcel for collecting from Peachtree Corners on top of $1.80 per parcel to reimburse her office for billing costs. The contract runs through 2024.

Mitchell declined to comment.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Peachtree Corners does not charge its own property tax on top of county rates, but the city collects storm water, solid waste and streetlight fees through the county tax commissioner.

Peachtree Corners spokesman Louis Svehla said the city is still paying personal fees to the tax commissioner because it’s more efficient for them.

“Since we do not bill for property tax and we never have, even if we did, we feel the return rate would not be that high,” he said.

“From an efficiency standpoint, from a financial standpoint, from a conversion standpoint, it all makes sense,” Svehla said. “Even with the $2 fee, we make out better than if we were to bring anything in-house.”

Peachtree Corners remains the only Gwinnett city that pays personal fees to the tax commissioner.

Many tax commissioners in Georgia charge personal fees for municipal collections. But backlash last year to the amount Porter proposed to charge, and the amount Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand makes from such fees, led to a law stripping tax commissioners in those two counties of the power to negotiate new municipal tax collection contracts.

Under the law, cities can still contract directly with the county for the tax commissioner’s services. After the law took effect, Grayson and Berkeley Lake agreed with Gwinnett County to have the tax commissioner collect the cities’ taxes without personal fees. The new law does not address the collection of municipal storm water, solid waste or street light charges.

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Svehla said there was no negotiation on how much the city would pay in personal fees.

“We received a contract from the county that did not include any fee increases and we moved forward with the presented contract,” Svehla said.

The county did not respond to a question about how the decision was made to charge Peachtree Corners personal fees although Grayson and Berkeley Lake do not pay them.

“The tax commissioner and the city of Peachtree Corners have approved this amendment,” county attorney Michael Ludwiczak told commissioners.