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Employee raises, law enforcement costs are driving Hall tax increase
Public hearings are today
Hall County Government Center

FY18 general fund: $103.65 million   FY17: $96.95 million

FY18 property tax rate: 6.95 mills   FY17: 5.716 mills

Where your tax bill goes (for unincorporated areas): 66 percent to Hall County Schools, 24.4 percent to general fund, 9.3 percent to the fire fund

Biggest new expenses in 2018:

2.5 percent cost of living raise: $1.4 million

Fifth Superior Court judge: $1.26 million

Public safety jobs, equipment: $1.2 million

Hall County tax increase hearings

When: 11 a.m. Thursday, 6 p.m. Thursday, 6 p.m. June 22

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

Hall County’s 26 percent tax rate increase — and its $6.7 million general fund spending jump — is mostly fueled by a 2.5 percent cost of living raise for employees, a fifth Superior Court judge and law enforcement spending.

The county is proposing a tax rate of 6.95 mills and a general fund spending plan of $103.6 million for the 2018 fiscal year beginning July 1. Both are large increases over 2017’s tax rate of 5.716 mills and its $96.95 million general fund.

Two public hearings are set for Thursday, the first beginning at 11 a.m. and the second at 6 p.m. A third hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 22. All will be held in the Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting room at 2875 Browns Bridge Road.

In previous years, public hearings have lasted about an hour, according to Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton, and speakers have had two minutes to comment on the tax increase.

The commission and its administration are likely in for a rough ride during the hearings this year as county residents balk at the tax hike, which will take the general fund property tax to its highest level since 2004.

County officials are defending the tax hike as a return to pre-recession levels of government — the county cut more than 100 positions in 2011 and hasn’t raised its property tax since 2006 — needed to accommodate a growing community.

“For 2009, ’10, ’11, ’12 and ’13, we saw the tax digest decrease in value to the tune of just over $1 billion, which represents about a 16 percent decrease,” said Finance Director Zachary Propes on Wednesday. “Through that same period of time, our leadership made it a point not to roll up the millage rate. So basically the county took the stance that we’re going to absorb some of the … recession for the taxpayers.”

Meanwhile, the county rolled back property taxes as property values grew beginning in 2014. Now, the tax rate can’t cover the cost of services for almost 200,000 people.

“Our revenue and our expenses have a gap, and we’re continuing to recover and the economy is getting better,” Propes said. “Certain areas of government are going to have more of a burden.”

While the county property tax is jumping 26 percent, your overall tax bill is going to climb by a much smaller margin.

For a home valued at $200,000, the county general fund tax bill would increase about $100. Hall County levies property taxes on only the first 40 percent of a home’s value — meaning the first $80,000 of a $200,000 home is taxable.

The same home’s total tax bill would come out to $2,276 in the next fiscal year, with $1,504 going to Hall County Schools, $556 to the county general fund, $212 to the Hall County fire fund and $4 to a state property tax.

Cash from the tax increase is headed to a few different areas.

The largest new operating expense in the 2018 fiscal year is a 2.5 percent cost of living raise for county employees costing $1.4 million.

This increase comes on the heels of a 3 percent cost of living raise approved by commissioners last year. Prior to that, county employees received no cost of living increases from about 2011, according to Knighton.

County officials are pointing to state law to defend spending increases other than the salary boost.

The county is being forced to pay $1.26 million for a fifth Hall County Superior Court judge — a state position funded by the county. The expense includes not only the judge’s salary, but the cost of 14 other full-time positions, four part-time positions, supplies and other costs.

The addition of the judge is based on population, according to the county.

The third-largest cost increase comes from public safety, where the county is expecting to add 10 positions to the Hall County Jail for $1.22 million.

With the state pushing more prisoners convicted of low-level felonies and misdemeanors into county jails, Sheriff Gerald Couch has to increase the number of jailors to handle the more than 900 inmates.

Couch requested 14 new positions, Propes said, but only 10 were approved.

Other county expenses include $600,000 in vehicle and equipment replacement, $290,000 in new positions (replacing laid-off employees in purchasing, building inspections, building maintenance and engineering), $200,000 in juvenile indigent defense funding, $149,000 for three new probation officers and other expenses.

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