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Hall commissioners planning for biannual property tax bills

Lutz, Oliver concerned about clarity of changes

POSTED: March 6, 2011 11:14 p.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Gale Johns enters property tax information in the system at the Hall County Tax Commissioner's Office. Hall County is beginning to draft what new tax bills will look like when they go out twice a year instead of once.

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The Hall County Board of Commissioners is set to discuss the way the new biannual tax bills will look at today's work session.

In November, the board voted to approve splitting yearly property tax payments into two installments.

The Tax Commissioner's Office will bring the redesigned property tax bill before the commission for approval.

The new bill is proposed to be one page divided into two slips that can be torn off and submitted with payments on the October and December due dates.

This year will be the first year taxes are collected in two installments. Commissioners say they want to make sure all the changes are explained.

"My concern is obviously confusion, whether or not they can go ahead and pay both at the same time or whether they have to pay them separately," Commissioner Craig Lutz said. "My hope is that we would be including an insert with more explanation."

Chairman Tom Oliver is also in favor of making the bill as clear as possible.

"I am hoping that the bill will be, No. 1 user-friendly, and No. 2, quite self-explanatory so there will not be a lot of questions," Oliver said.

"I hope there's a clarification of the penalties and when they're due. That's the most significant part of it."

Residents who do not submit the first or second installment on time will be subject to a 1 percent per month interest rate, the same penalty currently in place for late tax payments.

Failure to pay the second installment after 90 days will result in a 10 percent penalty.

Starting in 2011, the first installment will be due Oct. 1. The second installment would then be due Dec. 1.

The issue was brought up in June 2008 when longtime Hall County resident Louie Butterworth informed the commission of an old law mandating the county to send out biannual tax bills.

The county attorney researched the matter and found that conflicting laws were on the books.

Residents voted in 1974 on a constitutional amendment that would authorize Hall County to divide property taxes into two payments.

That same year, the Georgia legislature passed a statewide act that granted counties the ability to collect taxes either once or twice a year. In 1975, the same legislature passed a local act directing Hall County to collect taxes twice a year.

The commission decided to put the matter up to voters in a nonbinding ballot question in November 2008.

The answer was overwhelming: 70 percent of voters responded "yes" to twice-a-year collection.

Late last year, the commission was poised to approve the Oct. 1 and Dec. 1 due dates when they learned of the state law that required a 5 percent penalty if the first installment is not paid by the Oct. 1 due date.

The state penalty was not explained on the ballot the first time, so the commission agreed to put it back on the ballot in November, including language that explains the state law.

The results were once again favorable, with 53 percent of voters responding "yes."



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