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Hall votes to not hike taxes, give staff a 3 percent raise

Total FY2015 budget comes to $90.268M

POSTED: June 27, 2014 12:39 a.m.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Thursday night to approve a $90.268 million budget for the 2015 fiscal year that includes a full rollback of the property tax rate.

Commissioner Craig Lutz cast the lone dissent on the budget, though he did vote to set the tax rate at 5.989 mills.

A mill represents $1 for each $1,000 of property value, which is assessed at 40 percent in the county.

“It’s been an interesting process to put this budget together, to come up with a revenue-neutral, no-tax-increase type budget,” said Chairman Richard Mecum.

While commissioners expressed satisfaction at approving a budget with no technical tax increase, residents in attendance begged to differ on the meaning of this phrase.

The re-evaluation of lakefront homes this year primarily accounts for a 6.58 percent increase in the overall tax digest. About 90 percent of these properties saw increases in their assessed value, with the average increase about 39 percent.

All this means a bigger tax bill for lakefront homeowners, and a rollback of the tax rate doesn’t change this. Instead, other homeowners in the county will get a tax break.

Most residents who spoke before the board Thursday said they objected to the way reassessments were conducted, calling the process flawed and ambiguous.

They argued that their homes had been overvalued and said a cap needs to be put in place limiting the amount property taxes can increase in a given year.

“I find this reprehensibly disgusting to roll back the millage rate on the backs of lake property owners who have always paid the lion’s share ...,” resident Phil Attridge said.

Resident Mandy Harris said the reassessments were unwarranted given the fragile state of the economy.
“We are not cash cows,” she added.

Resident Curtis Iocco gave perhaps the most impassioned speech of the night. He said his property value had increased more than 300 percent.

“It’s ridiculous and you should be ashamed,” he added.

Residents who spoke were greeted warmly with rounds of applause from the audience.

“It’s a give and take to reach a budget like this,” Commissioner Billy Powell said. “Some people are going to get what they want. Some people are not going to get what they want.”

The budget also includes the use of about $3.2 million in reserve funds to cover shortfalls.

In addition, the board approved a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for full-time county workers. A 4 percent retirement contribution remains in place, and there will be no furlough days.

However, positions frozen during the recession have now been eliminated.

“I do think it was very deserving for them to get a cost-of-living adjustment this year,” Commissioner Scott Gibbs said, adding no raise had been given since 2008.

Public safety spending will surpass $41 million and, at 46 percent of the budget, accounts for the largest share.
The budget also includes funding for a new juvenile court judge, spending Lutz tried and failed to reduce with an amendment.

Lutz also proposed an amendment to cut $75,000 in funding for a BMX park in North Hall and $150,000 in funding for the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue.

This money comes out of a marina fund that supports lakeside parks. Lutz said he wanted to spend the money improving these parks, but his motion failed to gain support from the other commissioners.

The tax commissioner’s office will receive funding to move three part-time workers to full time, but the budget does not include a proposed raise for the tax commissioner.

The sheriff’s office will receive 15 patrol cars. Funding for an additional five cars requested will likely come from SPLOST VII revenue if voters support a new round of the sales tax this fall.

As often is the case, the approved budget represents a compromise of sorts.

But this is no solace for the residents in attendance furious about their property tax bills going up.

Resident Torey Bennett, perhaps, best summed up the public’s response to the budget.

“I heard a lot of thank yous to the employees and your staff,” he told commissioners. “But never one time did I hear you say thank you to the people of Hall County.”


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