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Hall surprised by tax collection vote

POSTED: November 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Hall County government officials were not expecting to hear that so many residents would rather pay their taxes twice a year.

Sixty-nine percent of Hall County residents said "yes" to paying ad valorem taxes in two installments at the polls on a nonbinding referendum, or survey question.

"I was surprised it passed," said Commission Chairman Tom Oliver. "I didn’t think most people would want twice-a-year tax bills."

Oliver, who said he is not in favor of paying taxes biannually, said the commission will make a decision based on what residents want and what is most practical for the county.

"A decision we’ve got to make on that is ... are we going to mandate that you pay twice a year or is it going to be voluntary?" Oliver said. "We’re just monitoring very closely the revenues of the county."

Hall County Commissioner Steve Gailey wasn’t expecting such a strong response either, but he said he is in favor of doing what his constituents want.

"The people sent a pretty strong message. They voted, I think 69 to 31 percent roughly, to get a tax bill twice a year. Of course it’s nonbinding and it’s going to be up to the board to institute it. ... I think if the people want the tax bill twice a year, we should send it to them twice a year," Steve Gailey said.

Gailey said most of the people he talked to were in favor of paying their taxes just once a year.

"I was totally surprised," Gailey said. "I had only talked to two or three people who were in favor of it. Most everybody I had talked to said, well ‘Why would I want to pay taxes twice a year?’"

Gailey said it’s possible that the county could start sending out two tax bills as early as next fiscal year.

"If it’s voted on by the commission, we would probably start sending two tax bills next year," Gailey said.

Though Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton was surprised by how many said they’d rather pay taxes twice a year, he said he can see why it is appealing.

"It probably does in fact make it easier for (people) to budget," Sutton said. "It does make sense for a lot of people."

He said it also has benefits for Hall County because reserves are low in the months leading up to December, when taxes are due.

"I think from our standpoint it certainly would help the government’s cash flow. Perhaps it’s a win-win," Sutton said.

Though the county would have to bear the cost of roughly $50,000 to print out a second tax bill, Sutton said it would be better for the county to have more money available halfway through the year.

"Relative to having the cash flow, it’s a small price," Sutton said.
The other question voters answered this election was an amendment to make it easier for those older than 70 to get full school tax exemptions.

A whopping 92 percent voted to approve that measure.

"It shouldn’t surprise anybody that a tax exemption passes on a referendum," said Hall County School Superintendent Will Schofield.

Schofield said that though they have not yet calculated how much revenue the school system would lose as a result, it is yet another financial blow to Hall County schools.

"We’ve just been recalculating our state revenues this year, and it appears they’re going to be down an additional $4 million from what we’ve already seen. And so at the end of the day, all of the local exemptions that we have are going to continue to make it a challenge as far as the budget situation," Schofield said. "At some point there’s going to have to be a realization that we can’t just keep cutting, cutting, cutting."


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