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Oakwood sets hearing on fire tax rate inequality

POSTED: January 10, 2014 11:09 p.m.

Oakwood residents will get a chance Monday to voice their opinions about fire tax inequality between city and county property owners.

The Oakwood city council will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, when they will hear comments from city property owners on the amount of taxes they pay for fire services from Hall County.

“The issue is incorporated property owners pay at a much higher millage rate than those in the unincorporated areas of Hall County,” City Manager Stan Brown said. “It’s something that our council feels is an inequity and should be brought to the county commission.”

Currently, the county charges a fire tax rate of 2.4 mills to those who live in areas outside of Hall’s cities and 3.83 mills for residents who live in incorporated areas. The exception is 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.

According to Brown, the county determines a tax rate to cover the total cost of providing fire services, after which it rolls back the rate in unincorporated areas based on the amount of taxes on insurance premiums paid by property owners the county receives from the state.

The city has informally offered to transfer its insurance premium tax payments to the county in exchange for an elimination of the differential or a similar rollback county residents receive. The county refused because, according to Brown, it would lose money on the deal.

City documents show Oakwood property owners pay approximately $800,000 to the county fire district, of which about $300,000 is based on the differential. However, the city only receives $205,000 in insurance premium tax payments from the state, which means Hall County would lose about $95,000 if it agreed to Oakwood’s proposal.

Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz, who conducted an analysis of the differential, said he believes it to be “fair and equitable,” though he doesn’t rule out possibly exchanging Oakwood’s insurance premium payment for a rollback similar to that of unincorporated property owners.

“I would be open,” he said. “I can’t speak for the rest of the (commissioners) but I would be, because then it would be fair.”

On Dec. 9, the city council passed a resolution urging residents to speak out about the inequality.

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.

Brown hopes to gauge public opinion on the matter during the public hearing on Monday.

“The city of Oakwood doesn’t pay the taxes, property owners do,” he said. “We just want the owners to know of the differential, because most do not.

“We just want to see if there is any public concern.”

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, or consider another alternative: establishing its own fire department.
Of course, that is no small task.

“It would be a major undertaking,” Brown said. “I don’t even want to think about it right now.”

The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Monday at the Oakwood City Hall, located at 4035 Walnut Circle in the city.


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