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Decision time comes for Hall County on taxes
Final public hearing, vote scheduled for Thursday
Hall County Government Center

Hall County tax increase public hearing

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

More info: 770-535-8288

It’s decision time on tax increases for the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

With opposition simmering on a proposed tax rate increase to 6.95 mills from 5.716, the commission is set to meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday to set its 2018 property tax rates as part of its regular meeting.

Along with the tax rate, commissioners will adopt their 2018 fiscal year budget. Both the budget and tax rate are seeing increases in the next fiscal year beginning July 1.

The county’s general fund is jumping to $103.65 million from $96.95 million. Including all of its operating, enterprise and capital funds, the county’s total budget is proposed for $242.55 million in 2018, up from $223.5 million. Dig into the numbers with us.

It’s the first time in a dozen years that the county has raised the mill rate, and it’s the highest property tax rate since 2005.

However, there are likely to be some last-minute changes to the budget before it’s adopted, as commissioners work to trim spending amid pushback from the public.

Thursday’s public hearing will be the third and last for the county on the proposed tax increase. The first two took place on June 15, during which about two dozen property owners spoke against the tax hike.

Home and business owners said they’re already feeling pinched by assessments, which have been on the upswing — in some cases dramatically — as the county economy improves.

Assessments are rising so quickly that the county’s rollback rate — the level of tax needed to avoid collecting more money than the previous year — was 5.501 mills. The rate proposed for 2018 represents a 26 percent increase over the rollback rate.

Because of the structure of the county’s tax system, the change wouldn’t mean a 26 percent increase in property owners’ total tax bill. A $200,000 piece of property would only see an additional $96 in tax.

County officials say they kept taxes down, laid off employees and cut spending during the recession to keep pressure off taxpayers, but with the economy improving and population growing the county needs to boost revenue to cover its operations.

On Wednesday, the Hall County Republican Party publicly opposed the tax increase.

“We believe that this drastic of a tax increase is irresponsible,” the party said in a statement from Chairman Matt Smith. “Especially when tax values continue to increase with a growing market. Further, it is our belief that growth in the population and economy, resulting in an increased tax digest, is strong enough to fund an increase in the fiscal budget.”

Commissioners have shifted some of the blame for the tax increase onto the state, saying they’re spending $1.26 million on 15 new employees connected to a fifth Hall County Superior Court judge — a state employee.

The county pays part of the judge’s salary and supports his or her operations with staff: public defenders, clerks, district attorneys and other employees.

The largest single increase in general fund spending, $1.4 million, is going to a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise for county employees. New employees for the Hall County Jail and other public safety spending are also costing the county.

Commission Chairman Richard Higgins said commissioners have been working to cut spending to the tune of $1.5 million from a few different funds and chip away at the tax rate in the past week.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. Thursday in the commission chambers at 2875 Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville.

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