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BOC awaits governor's action on key bills

If Gov. Sonny Perdue agrees with state lawmakers, and signs legislation before him, Henry County Commissioners will no longer have to resign to seek other elective offices, the hotel-motel tax in the county will be increased by 3 percent, and voters will have a greater say in certain redevelopment projects.

The three legislative measures came at the request of county commissioners, and each won overwhelming support from the Georgia General Assembly, according to Rufus Montgomery, who is vice president of Atlanta-based Cornerstone Communications Group, which served as a lobbyist for the county during the recent legislative session. Montgomery reported the news to county commissioners during a recent update session.

The bills must get the signature of the governor to become laws. "This is an example of our work with your staff, and members of your team ..." Montgomery said, of the legislation winning support.

Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B. J." Mathis said she will be glad to see the so-called "Resign to Run" law repealed. If signed, she said, the new bill would remove a hurdle for other candidates. "It personally cost me over $30,000 in legal fees," she said. "It also cost the county, as they attempted to defend a law found unconstitutional. Now that this is behind us, our election-qualifying procedures are not in conflict with the Constitution, and no other candidate will face this obstacle in the future," she said. Mathis was a sitting county commissioner when she challenged the law.

The measure to repeal the resign-to-run law was sponsored by State Reps. John Lunsford, John Yates, Steve Davis, Rahn Mayo, Glenn Baker, and Howard Mosby. It passed 157-0 in the House, and 42-0 in the Senate.

"Our State Constitution provides that if you are seeking election and still have years in your seat, you must resign," said Janet Shellnutt, Henry County Elections and Registration director. "But, if your term is up at the end of the year, you do not have to resign. So, basically, this piece of legislation was found unconstitutional by the Superior Court of Henry County, said Shellnut, which was a major force in urging the law's repeal.

"After about $30,000 spent on challenges, lawsuits, etc.," said Shellnutt, "we knew it was not a good piece of legislation. I was determined to have it repealed this year, because we could end up with other challenges, and lawyer bills, in two years, again. As director of elections for Henry County, I was extremely happy when we got this legislation through both the House and Senate this year," she added.

Another measure, HB 1470, authorizes the county to raise its hotel-motel tax in unincorporated Henry County, from 5 percent to 8 percent. Officials have said revenue derived will be used to promote tourism, conventions, and trade shows by a destination-marketing organization picked by the county. It passed 155-1 in the House and 50-0 in the Senate.

The hotel-motel tax bill was a "pretty reasonable request," Montgomery said. "The purpose was clear. Some folks talk about tax increases, but when you look at Henry County as compared to the other counties in the Atlanta metro area, where some have as high as 12 percent, this is just something that allows Henry to come to the base level of where the other counties are."

Lastly, Henry voters will have a major voice in future development projects. House Bill 1347 authorizes Henry County to exercise all redevelopment and other powers under the state Redevelopment Powers Law, and to provide for a referendum on the issues. It also allows the county to undertake community redevelopment projects, create tax allocation districts, and issue tax allocation bonds.

Tax allocation districts allow the use of tax-increment financing to stimulate and encourage development and investment in a defined area, which is determined to be blighted or underdeveloped, according to Henry County Development Authority Executive Director Bob White. The bill passed 144-1 in the House, and 46-0 in the Senate.

"Being diplomatic about it, there was a great deal of effort put into getting this piece of local legislation moving," Montgomery told commissioners. "Sixty or 70 jurisdictions have passed nearly identical language as requested by the county..."

Montgomery said all Henry County legislative delegation members, except Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough), voted for the bill. On Monday, Davis declined to comment about his vote.

Montgomery said after the meeting with county commissioners that the bill would bring the decision to constituents on whether to initiate redevelopment projects. "For clarity, it simply allows the board to ask the voters if they would approve the ability to set defined areas where they can exercise the redevelopment powers," he said.