Georgia Supreme Court takes up two-city feud over licenses at Hartsfield-Jackson airport

The Georgia Supreme Court today announced it would take on a long-standing tussle between the cities of Atlanta and College Park, over millions of dollars generated by airport businesses.

Oral arguments will take place this fall, according to the order made public today. At least three justices appear to already side with College Park – at least, they were willing to let stand a decision by the state Court of Appeals.

Here’s a backgrounder from last June, arising from the appeals court decision, by my AJC colleague Steve Visser:

The city of Atlanta might have to repay millions of dollars of taxes it improperly collected at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to College Park, according to a court ruling.

Atlanta has been collecting the occupational taxes for businesses at the airport that actually were in the city limits of College Park.

The issue went to the courts, and the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed with College Park: The small city is entitled to repayment of taxes collected.

According to the ruling, Atlanta also has to pay its own occupational tax to College Park, based on income from its airport leases and concessions.

But it wasn’t immediately clear how much money all of that could amount to.

“That could be a big number, ” said Michael Bell, former chief financial officer at Atlanta and DeKalb County. “It could well be millions of dollars. It is an issue that will have long-term implications.”

Atlanta spokesman John Kennedy said he was unable to determine how much city tax income would have to go to College Park or even how much occupational tax Atlanta collects from the airport each year.

Kennedy said the city would not comment on the lawsuit or its related issues.

Back in 2007, Atlanta sued College Park to stop it from collecting the taxes. College Park contended the original 1969 contract was invalid.

The city, Kennedy said, is “disappointed” with the decision and is currently evaluating its next steps.

In this tight budgetary year, the court’s ruling could mean Atlanta would have to make cuts elsewhere.

The court’s ruling covers any property at the airport within College Park’s boundaries: That would include the main terminal, Concourse A and part of Concourse B.

Bell, now a professor at Georgia State University whose dissertation dealt with the airport and its jurisdictional issues, said that could account for approximately a million square feet of space leased from Atlanta.

“Atlanta is the functional equivalent of the operator of Lenox Square, ” said Steve Fincher, city attorney for College Park “They are going to have to buy a business license from us which is based on their gross receipts from those [rental] operations.

“It would be a very significant sum.”

The ruling represented the second financial airport-related victory that College Park has claimed over Atlanta recently.

Earlier, a court ruled that College Park only owed Atlanta $7 million on a contract to buy back land around the airport while Atlanta contended its smaller neighbor owed as much as $21 million, Fincher said.

College Park City Manager William Johnson said the recovered occupational taxes will provide much-needed financial relief for the city of about 20,000 people, which just passed its fiscal 2012 budget of about $114 million Wednesday.

That budget was about $5 million less than fiscal 2011, he said.

“Definitely it will be a big help for our general fund, ” he said. “We just finished with our most difficult budget ever.”

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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4 comments Add your comment

Danny O

May 7th, 2012
12:43 pm

College Park may well have a valid claim here. But in all sincerity, what took them so long to raise the issue? The airport has been there for some time now.

Aaron Burr V Mexico

May 7th, 2012
1:01 pm

Couldn’t have happened to a nicer Mayor.

Enjoy Mr. Reed. Hopefully it will be used as ammo by anyone running against you.


May 7th, 2012
1:28 pm

Atlanta opened the door by trying to get College Park to pay more for the land buy back; open lawsuit empty wallet

Aaron Burr V Mexico

May 7th, 2012
1:39 pm

Ruh Roh, does that mean Tennessee might be getting some Georgia water down the road because of our attempt to move the border?