Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 26, 2017

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 26, 2017

On July 26, 1775, the United States Postal Service was created by the Second Continental Congress, may God have mercy on their souls. Benjamin Franklin served as the first Postmaster.

On July 26, 2015, former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first pitcher inducted who had undergone Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow.

Smoltz won the 1996 Cy Young award and reached the playoffs 14 times with Atlanta. The Braves won five pennants and the 1995 World Series with Smoltz on the roster. He’s the first pitcher to win more than 200 games and save at least 150 games. He’s also the first player inducted with Tommy John surgery on his resume.

Smoltz understood his debt to John.

“I’m a miracle. I’m a medical miracle,” Smoltz said. “I never took one day for granted.”

Smoltz also heaped praise on former manager Bobby Cox and teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, who were inducted a year ago, and delivered a message to parents of the players of tomorrow as the number of Tommy John surgeries continues to escalate.

“Understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 or 15 years old,” Smoltz said to warm applause. “Baseball is not a year-round sport. They’re competing too hard, too early. That’s why we’re having these problems.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Senator Johnny Isakson (R) and Senator David Perdue (R) both voted to move the debate over repealing Obamacare to the floor of the Senate.

Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, Georgia’s two GOP senators, provided two much-needed votes for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had worked furiously over the last several days to secure the required GOP votes to kick off debate on repealing Obamacare. The final vote of the full Senate was 51-50 after Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie.

Senator Isakson released a statement:

“Repealing the failing Obamacare law that has driven up costs and eliminated choice for many Georgia families is a commitment of mine because hardworking Georgia families deserve better,” said Isakson. “Today’s vote allows my Senate colleagues and me to participate openly in debate on just how we plan to help families and address this failed law. I will be actively engaged in debate and will carefully review the final bill to ensure we do the right thing for Georgians and all Americans.”

Senator Perdue released the following statement:

“Obamacare is collapsing under its own weight and soon the very people who need help the most will lose their insurance. In Georgia, 96 of 159 counties only have one health care provider leaving consumers with no choice. Premiums have risen more than 105% because of Obamacare making healthcare unaffordable for so many Georgians who need it most. To make matters worse, just a few weeks ago, the only provider in those 96 counties announced it will be increasing premiums 41% next year. Due to the flaws of Obamacare, more than 300,000 Georgians today do not have access to the insurance they were promised.

“This failed system isn’t going to fix itself, and I am glad the Senate has started a full debate on ways to improve health care. For weeks, Democrats have refused to work with us on bipartisan solutions and today not one of them voted to help fix the damage they did to our health care system. The Senate’s action this week is designed to increase competition, lower prices, and expand choices. Now that debate has begun, it is my hope Democrats decide to put aside their political self-interests and work with us to improve health care for Georgians and all Americans.”

The City of Columbus is asking for state help in addressing soaring property tax assessments.

Columbus Council approved a motion Tuesday to seek guidance from state officials about what council can do to address tax assessments that have jumped by as much as 1,000 percent.

Councilors made the decision with an unanimous vote after nearly three hours of intense discussion over the issue. Councilor Glenn Davis made the motion despite legal counsel from City Attorney Clifton Fay, who told councilors that they had very limited authority in the tax assessment process.

Councilor Walker Garrett was the first to bring up the question of council’s authority. He said drastic increases in property assessments should have been caught ahead of time and taxpayers are angry.

“… I’m more interested in how we fix this than what the status is of tax appeals, and what are our legal options as far as getting this basically sent back to the Department of Revenue or possibly keeping things at 2016 levels,” he said. “People are furious. … They’re mad at us and we need to figure out a way to fix this at this point.”

Garrett, along with Thomas, said councilors should have been notified of the significant tax increases before notices went out June 30.

Houston County’s tax digest exceeded $4 billion for the first time since 2013.

The digest, formulated by the Tax Assessors Office, compiles the value of all taxable property in the county. It includes real estate, vehicles, mobile homes and heavy equipment.

The net digest, which takes out the deductions property owners are allowed and is used to set the millage rate, was $3.77 billion, which is about $50 million more than last year.

That results in $437,634 more in additional tax revenue for the county, which is a 1.18-percent increase from 2016. It’s the first time the county has seen revenue growth from property taxes in four years. Although it’s far from the increases the county saw in its booming years, Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker liked it.

That’s after the county commission on Tuesday set the millage rate at 9.935 mills, which is down from the 9.95 mills that it has been. The decrease is an adjustment for a $56,000 increase in revenue the county would have seen due to property revaluations if the tax rate had remained the same.

Stalnaker explained that state law requires the county to roll back any increase related to revaluation, or either hold three public hearings announcing it as a tax increase. He said the board was not inclined to hold three public hearings to get $56,000.

Richmond County has not yet set a property tax millage rate.

The commission was at one point scheduled to set the tentative millage rate Tuesday but did not make the decision. The millage rate is applied against property tax values to determine an owner’s tax bill.

Commissioners have said they do not expect to raise the millage rate, and are running out of time to hold the required public hearings to do so. But the lack of growth means they’re unlikely to lower it, either.

Hall County is looking at how to regulate unlicensed short term rentals.

Complaints spurring the latest look into short-term rentals of residential property are coming from the North Hall neighborhoods of Cherokee Forest and Northlake Road off Cleveland Highway.

They surfaced during the Hall County Board of Commissioners’ Monday work session, when Commissioner Scott Gibbs relayed the complaints from his district of college fraternity-style gatherings at residences that had been rented out online, or vacation rentals by owner.

“I don’t see the benefit of the VRBO, I’m going to just tell you, because it opens our neighborhoods up for problems,” Gibbs said.

Short-term rentals through websites like VRBO and Airbnb have become common in Hall County — especially along Lake Lanier, where relatively limited commercial space along the lake itself has put a premium on beds for rent.

Susan Rector, director of the Hall County Business License Department, agreed on Monday that the county needs “a little more regulation” on vacation rentals.

“We need to be a little more specific about the number of people who can be in the home in (a) … single-family residence,” Rector said.

Along with zoning, the county requires homeowners who rent out their property to register with the county, get a business license and pay excise taxes regardless of their zone. The current rules were approved in 2010.

Almost everyone ignores these requirements.

The county has only nine licensed vacation rental locations, according to Rector. There are dozens and dozens of properties listed on VRBO and Airbnb.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll undoubtedly say it again: look for an “Airbnb bill” to address this issue in next year’s Georgia General Assembly.

Cobb County Commissioners rejected a proposed property tax hike.

Cobb commissioners Tuesday voted to keep the millage rate the same, departing from Chairman Mike Boyce’s original proposal to increase property taxes amid the county’s highest-ever tax digest.

Under the approved measure, the county-assessed millage rate will remain at 9.85 mills, with the county expected to use $4 million in economic development contingency funds in this year’s budget, with another $4 million slated for the 2018 budget, according to Commissioner Bob Ott, who made the proposal.

The vote was 3-2, with Boyce and Commissioner Lisa Cupid opposed.

The board voted down Boyce’s proposal, which was only supported by Cupid. The chairman said the higher millage had been needed due to commissioners’ decision earlier this year to fund a portion of the 2008 parks bonds, and to pay for the county’s 2017 budget, which ends on Sept. 30.

Marietta City Council will likely adopt property tax rates at its meeting today.

The council is scheduled to adopt the final tax rates for both the city government and Marietta City Schools at the meeting. The city plans to set its rate at 5.617 mills and will set Marietta City Schools’ rate, which was already approved by the Marietta school board, at 17.97.

Despite the rate staying steady, the total value of assessed property in Marietta increased by nearly $250 million since 2016, so property owners may see higher tax bills this year.

Keeping the same property tax millage rate, means an effective property tax hike of 7.24 percent for the city and 7.51 percent for the schools.

Tyler Perry will receive a tax abatement in Cobb County for his airplanes.

The Development Authority of Cobb County voted unanimously Monday morning to adopt a $35.3 million bond resolution allowing Tyler Perry Studios to refinance its private, 70-passenger Lineage jet.

Perry’s attorneys said he will house the aircraft at a county-owned hangar along with his 14-seat Gulfstream G-5 and an 8-seater Embraer Phenom 100.

In an attempt to keep the company’s identity a secret, Development Authority members referred to the bond and abatement request as “Project Meatloaf” before finally revealing Perry’s identity at their meeting Monday.

The tax abatement approved by the Development Authority gradually brings the jet onto the tax rolls over ten years, but despite the percentage of taxes owed on the jet increasing annually, both governing bodies will collect less money each year as the plane’s value depreciates.

Clark Hungerford, the Development Authority’s chairman, said housing the planes locally could spur additional film production around the county, possibly even prompting other corporations to follow suit and bring their commercial jets to Cobb’s airport.

“This state is significantly impacted by the film industry,” Geter said. “Atlanta is a hot-bed for the movie industry — Cobb just wants to be part of that.”

The abatement schedule now moves to the Cobb County Board of Tax Assessor’s for approval, Geter said. If approved, the Development Authority will seek to have the bonds validated in Cobb County Superior Court. Geter said he hopes to close on the process sometime in September.

The Mayor and City Council of Newnan will consider adopting the rollback property tax millage rate.

“The opportunity presented itself to send a message to our citizens that Newnan wants to ease the burden faced by so many of our taxpayers as we make every effort to maintain a high and consistent level of services,” [Public Information Officer Gina] Snider said.

“The city continues to show our taxpayers that we are good stewards of tax dollars. The city has seen a millage rate decrease from 4.5 to 4.05 over the last decade.”

Grantville City Council failed to pass the first recommendation for the property tax millage rate.

The motion to set the tentative millage rate at 6.25 mills for 2017 died from the lack of a second at Monday night’s meeting, which would have been an increase of 1.234 mills. With the measure failing, the city must revert to its rollback rate 5.016. Under state law, the rollback rate is configured to bring in the same amount of money as last year.

Last year’s millage rate was 5.25 mills, but the 5.016 rate takes increases in property values into account. A mill is one dollar of tax for each $1,000 in assessed property value.

City Manager Al Grieshaber said the proposed increase would “restore the city to fiscal year 2012 and compensates partially for increased costs of materials, supplies and labors, while providing employee benefits.”

Councilwoman Ruby Hines said she did not feel at peace to vote in favor of the increase.

Valdosta City Council member Sandra Tooley will seek re-election in November.

Two other council seats will be up for grabs this November: Robert Yost’s District 6 seat and Alvin Payton Jr.’s District 4 seat.

Yost has already said he will not run for re-election, ending his 16 years on the council. Payton has not made an official announcement on the topic.

Brookhaven City Council Member Joe Gebbia announced he will seek re-election.

Gebbia’s first election victory awarded him a seat on City Council for a two-year term. In 2013, he was re-elected to a full four-year term after running unopposed.

During his time in office, Gebbia has led the creation of Keep Brookhaven Beautiful, the annexation efforts to bring Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Executive Park into Brookhaven, and played a leadership role in development of the Peachtree Creek Greenway.

Gebbia explains if re-elected, he will continue to provide a business style approach to Brookhaven. “I’ve worked hard to successfully address the three P’s – Police, Parks and Pot Holes, and to lower property taxes while creating and approving balanced and sound budgets,” he said in the release. “We have accomplished a great deal since the inception of cityhood.”

Over the next 4 years Gebbia says he hopes to “continue to be a part of the process of making Brookhaven one of the most desirable cities in the region by working on: 1) the redevelopment of Buford Highway, 2) the building and completion of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, 3) the building of a new and permanent City Hall.”

Andrea Gordy resigned from the Varnell City Council after her residency was challenged.

Andrea Gordy resigned from the council on Tuesday just hours before a meeting of the council.

Gordy sent a two-sentence letter of resignation to Mayor Anthony Hulsey and pointed to her upcoming marriage and “recent changes in the plans of my new family” as reasons she stepped down. The resignation came hours after she sent an email to City Manager Mike Brown, citing threats she had received and safety concerns after she was one of three council members to vote in favor of dissolving the Varnell Police Department, a vote that was later vetoed by Hulsey.

Her resignation is the second on the council in the last month. Sheldon Fowler resigned from the council on June 28 after criminal charges were brought against him for a domestic disturbance at his home on June 13.

Mama Louise of the H&H Restaurant in Macon will receive the Harriet Tubman Act of Courage Award.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division issued a water discharge permit for a new turpentine plant in Effingham County.

The Georgia Ports Authority set a new record for container moves in FY 2017.

In fiscal 2017, which ended June 30, the port handled an all-time high of 3.85 million TEUs – or 20-foot equivalent container units – marking an increase of nearly a quarter-million TEUs over FY2016.

While year-over-year growth in box numbers came in at a very respectable 6.7-percent, it was the second half of FY2017 that provided an indication of things to come.

Beginning in May with the arrival of the 13,000-plus TEU container ship, the COSCO Development, Garden City Terminal’s numbers have soared.

In the last half of FY2017 alone, the Port of Savannah handled nearly 2 million TEUs, for a growth rate of 11.6 percent over the same period last year.

“We could not have achieved this record-breaking year without the hard work and outstanding dedication of our employees,” GPA executive director Griff Lynch told his board Monday.

Columbus City Council voted to give $1000 bonuses to full-time employees.

Georgia Democrats

State Rep. Bob Trammell, Jr. (D-Luthersville) was elected as the Democratic Leader in the Georgia State House, succeeding Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta).

Trammell said his decision to run for the leadership of the Georgia House Democratic caucus was prompted by the vacancies in leadership positions.

“I ran because I want to work collaboratively to benefit Georgians and better serve our district,” said Trammell.

The House minority leader is relatively new to the caucus. He was elected to represent District 132, which covers parts of Meriwether, Troup and Coweta counties, in January 2015. Yet last November in the regular caucus election for the current term, his colleagues made him vice chairman.

Trammell said he believes in his party’s ability to make improvements “to provide Georgians with a better way of life.” He said the touchstone of the Democratic caucus is reflected in Robert F. Kennedy’s 1966 Day of Affirmation Address:

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice. He sends forth a tiny ripple of hope…”

From the AJC Political Insider:

Trammell won on the second round, beating state Rep. Carolyn Hugley of Columbus and Winfred Dukes of Albany. Dukes was ousted on the first round, gaining only nine votes.

Gwinnett County Democrats will hold their first “Democracy Day.”

The political party is planning to celebrate its first Democracy Day, beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 5. The day will be part caravan and part cookout as local Democrats look to shake things up and get their message out.

“This is a day for high visibility, nerve rattling and loads of fun,” party officials said in an announcement. “First we will get in our cars and roll all over the city in a convoy, making noise and making our presence felt.”

Participants will first gather at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, at 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville, to line up for their convoy, with a traffic cop leading them.

They will then head out into the city at 9:45 a.m., and after driving around for a little bit, they will end up at Rhodes Jordan Park, at 100 E. Crogan St., in Lawrenceville, by 11 a.m. for festivities at the park’s Pavilion No. 3.

The Democratic Party of Georgia appears to have fully bought in to the idea of resisting President Trump. Or something. A recent email from the DPG identified the sender as “DPG Resistance.” No doubt they’re knitting themselves hats.

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