Some of them frustrated by the one-two punch of assessment increases and higher taxes, a few dozen people turned out to the first public hearing on Hall County’s proposed property tax increase.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners is considering a property tax of 6.95 mills for the 2018 fiscal year beginning July 1. The current rate is 5.716 mills.
With increases in property assessments in the county, the commissioners would have to roll back to 5.501 mills to avoid a tax increase as required by state law, according to its 2017 tax digest. Instead, the county is proposing its first general fund property tax increase in 12 years.
The commission’s first public hearing started at 11 a.m. Thursday, and another is set to begin at 6 p.m. at 2875 Browns Bridge Road.
A few of the speakers at the Thursday morning hearing argued that with the economy improving in the area they’ve seen large assessment increases — the taxable value of a home as appraised by the Hall County tax assessor’s office — that make the proposed tax increase more painful.
“I’ve been so frustrated in the assessment process,” said Flowery Branch resident Michael Schweiger. “My property has increased 100 percent in value in the last five years. I’ve appealed several times with very, very little understanding. So the increase in millage rate is adding fuel to the fire — you can’t look at it all by itself.”
He noted that the county’s 26 percent tax increase feels more like a 126 percent tax increase with recent assessments.
“I’ve seen two of my neighbors on my street in their 80s and 90s sell their homes because of what’s happened in the past several years,” Schweiger said.
Other speakers called on Chairman Richard Higgins and commissioners Jeff Stowe, Kathy Cooper, Scott Gibbs and Billy Powell to cut county spending rather than raise taxes.
Along with the tax increase, the county’s general fund — which funds the majority of the county’s day-to-day operations — is increasing to $103 .6 million from $96.9 million. The largest single increases in the fund come from a 2.5 percent cost of living raise, a fifth Hall County Superior Court judge and staff and increases to public safety spending.
“I understand why you’re doing it,” said Greg Riley, who lives in North Hall, of the budget and tax increase. “But I think it’s too fast and too much.”
Riley noted his own property assessment oddities, including a 53 percent increase in the personal property assessment of his 15-year-old personal watercraft.
Other speakers emphasized that any tax increase is money out of the pockets of county residents.
“Most of the people in this country haven’t had a raise — even a cost of living raise — in the last 10 years,” said Robert Phipps. “I know you may need the money … but you already get an increase every year by raising assessments.”
Thursday’s public hearing was launched with a budget presentation from Hall County Finance Director Zachary Propes. Commissioners responded to a few statements made by the public at the end of the comment period.