Legal Scholar: Fulton County May Not Be Able to Beat HB 604

Credit Emory University School of Law

Fulton County says it is on firm legal ground in rejecting a new state law that stops the County from raising property tax rates for two years.

But an Emory University law scholar says that may not be the case.

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Fulton County’s position is that House Bill 604, passed earlier this year and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, violates the County’s right to home rule. Home rule was the focus of a state constitutional overhaul in 1983.

But Professor Frank Alexander, an expert on state and local government law, says state regulation of Fulton County taxes dates back to a constitutional amendment ratified in 1951. “The catch is that the 1983 constitution itself allowed certain local amendments to remain in force and effect if they were reaffirmed,” says Alexander. “And this particular legislation was reaffirmed in 1986.”

Alexander says what happens next is up to the County. “It can seek to create a millage rate different than [House Bill] 604 permits, in which case somebody will challenge that action,” says Alexander. “Or Fulton County could initiate its own action in Superior Court seeking to have 604 declared inconsistent with the 1951 constitutional amendment.”

Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves says he expects litigation but has stopped short of saying the county will initiate it.