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Flowery Branch tax digest numbers sharply decrease
City could see at least a 4.47 percent drop
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FLOWERY BRANCH — What a difference three weeks can make.

Flowery Branch went from hearing on March 30 that its tax digest numbers are increasing by 2.39 percent — the only area government to see a positive change — to learning Thursday that the city could see at least a 4.47 percent decrease.

"As a matter of fact, we're seeing a negative change more than any other taxing entity in the county, as things stand today," City Manager Bill Andrew told City Council at its regular monthly meeting in City Hall.

"I would stress, as strongly as I can, that these are early numbers and they are ... subject to change substantially," he added.

Andrew said he asked Scott Martin of the Hall County Tax Commissioner's Office if tax digest numbers could drop even lower, and "he said that's quite likely."

The decrease, as it is now, translates to a loss of about $34,000 in tax revenues, but that number could worsen, climbing to $40,000 or higher, Andrew said.

Also, tax collections are slower this budget year, which ends June 30.

The city had budgeted $731,500 in property tax revenue, and at this point, it has received $667,000.

"We're already 9 percent down this year, which is frankly a little unusual," Andrew said. "We normally hit that pretty well on the head.

"So, we're $64,000 down this year ... and we could be another $40,000 to $50,000 down next year," he added.

As for the tax digest numbers, Andrew said he suspects "the reason that our numbers are showing this variability and sensitivity is due to the fact that we're largely dependent on residential (property) evaluations rather than commercial and industrial."

Overall, Hall County's 2011 tax digest is down, which finance officials have said could spell the worst budget year yet for local governments.

They gave that dreary outlook in a public meeting of area government officials March 30 at the Mulberry Creek Community Center in South Hall.

"We're all in a little precarious situation as we try to determine just how much we might lose in property appeals this year," said Lisa Johnsa, the county's interim finance director, at the meeting.

Still, Andrew said despite the sharp swing in numbers for Flowery Branch, "it's not a moment of panic for the city."

He said he and Interim City Clerk Lou Camiscioni have met with department heads and "we don't see anything at this point that alarms us about next year's budget."

"This (revenue issue) is just something we'll have to deal with in the numbers that we have," Andrew told the council.

Council members will receive a draft budget for next fiscal year on April 28. The new budget year begins July 1.

In other business, the council voted 4-1 to approve a change in its zoning code, shortening the duration of messages on electronic multiple message signs.

The amount of time a message must stay fixed on a sign fronting Interstate 985 would drop to 10 seconds from 49 seconds.

Chris Fetterman was the only council member voting against the change, saying he had concerns about motorists having the distraction while driving 70 mph or faster on I-985, which, he said, is "turning into a super speedway."