State may target tax lien sales

Fulton tax commissioner says they help schools, local governments

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has spurred some state lawmakers to try to reel in Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand, outraged that his quick sale of tax liens may have deprived the county of up to $20 million.

Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann says the AJC’s findings also warrant an official investigation.

The AJC reported Sunday that Ferdinand sold thousands of property tax liens before the county would have been eligible for a 10 percent penalty. That resulted in the county handing over as much as $20 million in potential profits to a private company that is the biggest lien buyer – with a corresponding $20 million potential loss to the county.

State Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, said the AJC’s findings underscore his suspicion that there’s a tight relationship between the tax commissioner and the company.

He and other Fulton County lawmakers say they also have had long-standing concerns about Ferdinand’s process for selling liens.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, described the process as abusive. “It’s designed to make sure that people cannot make good on their taxes,” Fort said.

Ferdinand has said that lien sales are legal and buyers reap the benefit of penalties and interest because they take the risk of collecting overdue taxes. He wouldn’t comment on potential legislation, saying it would be premature to respond until a final bill is submitted.

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