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Oakwood's resolution tries to engage residents in fire tax debate

POSTED: December 11, 2013 12:23 a.m.

Oakwood City Council has passed a resolution calling on its residents “to speak out” about a fire tax “inequity” for city taxpayers.

The city “seeks the input, advice and direction of its taxpayers in its effort to address (the issue), as the city has no legal standing to contest the inequitable treatment of Oakwood taxpayers by Hall County,” states the resolution, approved late Monday by the council.

“We will schedule a public information opportunity ... that will give taxpayers the opportunity to express their comments on that,” City Manager Stan Brown said Tuesday.

The fire tax issue has lingered in the South Hall city for some time.

The county charges a fire tax rate of 2.4 mills for residents who live in areas outside of Hall’s cities and 3.83 mills for residents who live in the cities, except for Gainesville, which has its own fire department.

One mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. The county assesses property at 40 percent of its value.

Brown has said the county determines a tax rate to cover the total cost of providing fire services. It then rolls back the unincorporated rate based on the amount of taxes on insurance premiums paid by residents it receives from the state for properties in those parts of the county.

“To address this issue, the city has informally offered to transfer its insurance premium tax payment to the county, if the county will eliminate the differential — or apply the same rollback — for the Oakwood taxpayers,” Brown said.

“It appears that Hall County is unwilling to address the inequity due to the fact that (it) will receive $95,000 less under the proposal advanced by (the city),” the resolution states.

Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton has said the county is open to discussions on the issue with Oakwood. He couldn’t be reached for further comment Tuesday.

City residents pay about $800,000 in total fire taxes, $300,000 of which is based on the tax rate differential. The city receives about $205,000.00 in insurance premium taxes from Georgia.

The whole issue has prompted discussion in the city of going another route — setting up its own fire department.
“If we were to (do that), we would have to charge pretty much the same millage rate the county is charging our taxpayers in order to run a fire station,” Brown said. “That’s something we’ll need to look at, but I think our first step is to see if this is an issue for our taxpayers.”

He said he believes many city taxpayers aren’t even aware of the differential.

If there is public interest in pushing for equity, the city could then formally request the rollback in exchange for the insurance premium transfer, Brown said.

If that hits a dead end, the city “could spend the staff time and effort on coming up with a feasibility study” on a fire department.

“With that, you’d have to look at coverage area, (fire protection) ratings, the cost of startup, the cost of operation — all those issues,” Brown said. “If it does make sense and it’s a better value for the citizens, then we’d want to move in that direction.

“If it doesn’t make sense ... then the logical thing would be (to) put this issue to rest.”


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