Arthur Ferdinand has faced – in his estimation – a thousand lawsuits since he became Fulton County Tax Commissioner in 1997. Those lawsuits have come from disgruntled residents, the county and the municipalities he serves, while lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to curb Ferdinand’s unorthodox – but completely legal – pocketing of money from selling off liens on delinquent properties to make him the highest paid elected official in the state.
Ferdinand, a native of Trinidad and former executive at IBM, is unapologetic. “If I do more work, I should be compensated,” he said frankly, noting that he also handles tax collection fro the City of Atlanta, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek and Chattahoochee Hills. “I don’t apologize for it one bit.”
Ferdinand gave a broad-reaching talk and answered questions at the Sept. 11 Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting. The tax commissioner’s name has come up numerous times during recent BCN meetings, mainly stemming from his salary.
With an annual salary of around $383,000, much of that comes from the $1 he takes home from every lien he sells or settles. As an example, Ferdinand said if he sells the lien on a $100,000 property in Fulton, he gets $1 while the county gets $1,000. That’s money in the county’s piggybank it wouldn’t have had if the property had been allowed to sit derelict or was subjected to foreclosure.
Ferdinand was first appointed tax commissioner in 1997. He said his wife “forced” him to go to the interview, but he not only got the job, he’s remained entrenched there after the position became an elected one. He’s been re-elected three times – in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
He brushes away criticism by stating that he boosted Fulton County’s tax collection from the lowest in the state to the highest at 99 percent, which he continues to maintain. “My office collects more taxes than DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett put together,” he said.
The stage legislature has tried several times to change the law that allows the tax commissioner to personally gain when liens are sold, and Ferdinand said he would retire if the law was ever successfully changed. He also said he believed that most elected and appointed officials were being underpaid for all the work they do.
Several residents, who had received liens against their property, were frustrated with Ferdinand because they had never received official word from the tax commissioner’s office. It was suggested that registered mail should be used for such correspondence, but Ferdinand said the county would never approve the increased cost. “From 49 cents to $3 per piece of mail will not happen,” he said.
Ferdinand said both Fulton County and Atlanta had countless numbers of properties that were sitting abandoned and derelict with his office unable to collect taxes or no investors willing to buy the liens. Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who was in attendance at the BCN meeting, said the recent creation of the city’s code enforcement commission would be working to track down individuals and corporations to get those properties back on the tax roll.