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Gainesville council heads for the hills to discuss controversial tax plan

POSTED: October 29, 2007 5:03 a.m.

GAINESVILLE — Gainesville City Council members will travel to Helen today for the Georgia Municipal Association’s District 2 meeting.

Amy Henderson, public information manager for the Georgia Municipal Association, a lobbying and training group for local governments, said the association will update local officials from the area on the state’s legislative agenda.

"It’s kind of an information exchange between the GMA staff and the cities in the district," Gainesville City Manager Bryan Shuler said.

One of the hottest topics at other district Georgia Municipal Association meetings has been Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s GREAT plan, Henderson said. The GREAT plan, or Georgia’s Repeal of Every Ad-valorem Tax plan, would eliminate taxes on houses, cars and businesses, but would broaden the sales tax.

"That will be a large part of that discussion ... educating our members about what the plan is as of today, and the implications for local governments," Henderson said.

Most local government officials across the state have said that Richardson’s plan is not so great, because it would take decision-making out of the hands of local officials.

Gainesville City Council members are no exception.

Gainesville Councilman George Wangemann said most council members plan to attend today’s meeting, except Mayor Bob Hamrick, who will be out of town.

Wangemann said the council wants to discuss Richardson’s tax plan.

"I can’t speak for everybody, but most elected officials are against this GREAT plan," Wangemann said.

Wangemann said it would be nice to get rid of property taxes, but Richardson’s plan does not seem to be the way out of high property taxes.

"Sales tax is generally good as long as the economy is good. Property taxes are a more stable source of revenue for local governments, so they’re more reliable."

Wangemann said people in Gainesville and the rest of Georgia are upset about their property tax assessments, because it usually means an increase in property taxes for them.

Wangemann echoed other municipal officials’ concerns that Richardson’s plan will usurp power from the local governments.

"I’ve always believed that the government that governs closest to the people is generally most effective," Wangemann said "So we don’t really need more control taken away from the local governments in favor of greater control by the state government. That’s not a good thing."

Wangemann said, though he did not want to speak for other council members, he thinks most of the Gainesville City Council members feel the same.

"They were all in a chorus of head-nodders agreeing with Bryan Shuler ... when he made that presentation to the Joint Local Government Association on Monday night," he said.

Shuler spoke to other local officials Monday about the problems with the plan, and said that the plan would give local governments the same amount of money every year, leaving them little room to grow.

"I think ... if we’re going to have tax reform we need to have a more comprehensive approach than what’s been proposed thus far, and one that won’t undermine the fiscal integrity of local governments," Shuler said.

Wangemann agrees. He said he does not believe the plan, as Richardson presented it, has a significant benefit to the Georgia taxpayer. Wangemann also said he thinks the public will not support the plan if it goes to referendum as-is.

"As citizens become more educated as to the ramifications of this tax plan I think they too will probably join local elected officials... in opposing this plan as it now is," Wangemann said.

The GMA meeting will occur in Helen at 6:30 p.m. Henderson said 32 cities are in the GMA District 2, and 23 of those, including Gainesville, plan to attend the meeting.

"It should be a pretty good crowd," Henderson said.



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