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Gainesville City Council OKs tax increase
Two more public hearings scheduled before increase becomes official
0916COUNCIL
Gainesville City Council approved a tax increase at its Tuesday meeting.

Public hearings on Gainesville tax increase

When: 9 a.m. Oct. 1 and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 6

Where: Public Safety Complex municipal courtroom, 701 Queen City Parkway, Gainesville

Gainesville City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday to approve a property tax increase to pay off debt and support local parks.

Council members Sam Couvillon and George Wangemann dissented, and Mayor Danny Dunagan cast the fourth vote necessary to break the impasse.

“I would like for us as a council to try to find some cuts in the budget,” Couvillon said. “We never did discuss that. Maybe there aren’t cuts there, but I would like to look at it … before we ask taxpayers to pay more.”

City Council will hold two additional public hearings on the proposed tax increase in October before it becomes official.

Gainesville officials are considering reducing the rate to $2.98 per $1,000 of taxable property from $3.02.

The tax digest grew to more than $3.9 billion this year from about $3.6 billion in 2014, and taxes levied grew by about $900,000.

To be considered revenue-neutral, the state requires local governments roll back the tax rate to adjust for growth in the tax digest resulting from property value reassessments. Anything other than a full rollback is considered a tax increase.

A full rollback to $2.78 was seen as too much for a few different reasons, officials said.

The 7.19 percent increase over the full rollback rate would produce an additional $700,000 to pay for debt and parks, according to Chief Financial Officer Melody Marlowe, who is also serving as interim city manager.

As an example, the annual property tax increase would be an extra $35 for a home with a fair market value of $175,000, according to city officials.

The city’s general obligation debt is about $18.8 million and includes payments owed on the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, downtown parking deck and lease payments on the old Hall County jail after the Corrections Corp. of America vacated the facility a few years ago.

The city owes $6.52 million on the jail, which it purchased for more than $7 million in 2012.

These are payments the city cannot postpone, some officials said.

“It seems evident to me that the big reason for the increase, of course, is the city jail,” Wangemann. “So I’m not going to go back on my vote.”

Of the total millage rate, $1.63 will be directed to general government expense, 75 cents toward parks operations and 60 cents to pay off outstanding debt and interest.

Meanwhile, state law prohibits the property tax rate for parks from falling below 75 cents. A full rollback would have put the rate at 72 cents.  

Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said because the tax rate will actually be smaller, it shouldn’t be considered a tax increase.

“We really have a tax rollback … it appears to be, or has to be advertised as a tax increase, when really it is not,” she added.

Wangemann said he took issue with this opinion.

“If it wasn’t a tax increase, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

Mayor Danny Dunagan said he agreed, but voted to support the tax increase to “keep the city safe and have financial stability.”

Public hearings on Gainesville tax increase

When: 9 a.m. Oct. 1 and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 6

Where: Public Safety Complex municipal courtroom, 701 Queen City Parkway, Gainesville


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