Fulton Taxpayers Foundation Struggling, Future Uncertain
(APN) ATLANTA — The Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation has let go of its Executive Director and other office staff and is no longer accepting new property tax appeals, Atlanta Progressive News has learned, as sources familiar with the matter say the Foundation is struggling with financial issues and that its future is quite uncertain at this point.
“We hope to find a way to keep going. I’m not sure where the numbers are. I’m not sure if it’s good. I’m not sure if it’s bad,” Phil Kent, a Board Member of the Foundation and a commentator on the Georgia Gang television program, told APN.
Executive Director Barbara Payne and Christopher Eichler, who was the other remaining office staff member, were both let go last week due to lack of funds, John Sherman, President of the Board of Directors, told APN.
Sherman said that like all non-profit organizations, the Foundation has been grappling with the problem of dwindling contributions in recent months.
In recent weeks, the Foundation brought on an auditor, Justin Wiedeman, a Certified Public Accountant, to get a better handle on the Foundation’s overall financial picture.
These financial problems were exacerbated by the death earlier this year of Ron Bell, a Board Member who had been a substantial donor to the Foundation. In addition, Mr. Sherman has been struggling with some personal health challenges.
William Lane, Foundation Treasurer, is currently answering the phones at the Foundation’s office in Atlanta’s Buckhead community.
When reached by phone, Lane said he was “cleaning up the office,” which he said would take two weeks.
When asked whether the Foundation was still operating, Lane said it was, adding that the Foundation was no longer accepting new property tax appeals.
Individuals needing property tax assistance who live in Fulton County can still contact the Foundation, and Lane will refer them to an appraiser, he said.
However, the Foundation is no longer providing case management, or, for lack of a better term, hand-holding, for any new clients.
The Foundation does have existing property tax clients whose appeals may still take as long as six months to resolve.
Kent said that the Foundation would make sure that all the existing clients were taken care of.
Kent said the Board would be holding another meeting soon, likely before the end of December 2012, but that it has not been called yet.
“I’m aware we’re gonna re-group. We’re supposed to meet before Christmas. The Board will have an official statement,” Kent said.
“We do not want to close the doors on the Foundation. We’re gonna have to regroup. I’m still trying to remain optimistic. I have not seen final numbers,” Kent said, referring to the current situation as a “bump in the road.”
Sherman first founded a separate entity called the Fulton County Taxpayers Association in 1995, and it was dissolved in 2010, according to the website of the Secretary of State of Georgia.
Meanwhile, the Foundation was founded in 2002 and is still listed as an active Georgia corporation.
The Foundation has generally been seen as a right-wing enemy of the City of Atlanta and of Fulton County Government; however, the Foundation’s alliances, positions, and work in the community have defied partisan politics.
Over the last two years, for example, the Foundation partnered with State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) to criticize the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education for its perceived cover-up of the CRCT cheating scandal; with groups like the Sierra Club of Georgia, to oppose and successfully defeat the T-SPLOST vote earlier this year; and with the Atlanta Progressive News on a variety of projects.
The Foundation has been a long-time critic of the Atlanta Beltline, and provided APN’s News Editor–the present writer–with a rare opportunity to discuss issues of gentrification and the Beltline at a June 2012 Town Hall Meeting on the T-SPLOST vote that the Foundation sponsored.
The Foundation raised concerns regarding procurement for concessions contracts at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; and in recent weeks, has been opposing the concept of a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.
As previously reported by APN, Sherman and Eichler still have pending litigation challenging the Beltline and Perry-Bolton Tax Allocation Districts, which are soon to be heard by the Supreme Court of Georgia.
To be sure, over the years, the Foundation has helped a large number of wealthy property owners in north Atlanta and in north Fulton County, to keep more money in their pockets. These families, who arguably did not necessarily need the extra money, benefitted from years of property tax appeal assistance by the Foundation.
However, it is lesser known that the Foundation also has provided extensive pro bono, or deeply discounted property tax appeal assistance, to lower income families living in south Atlanta and south Fulton County, who often were disproportionately impacted by excessive assessments, and who often had nowhere else to go for help.