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Gainesville considering tax increase to pay off jail debt
Public meetings to be held in September, October
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Public hearings on proposed tax increase

When: 6 p.m. Sept. 15, 9 a.m. Oct. 1 and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 6
Where: Public Safety Complex municipal courtroom, 701 Queen City Parkway, Gainesville

Gainesville officials are proposing a slight tax increase to pay off debt on the old Hall County jail the city purchased in 2012, as well as support local parks operations.

The City Council was prepared to keep the property tax millage rate for the city in place at $3.02 per $1,000 of taxable property. A full rollback to 2.78 mills was seen as too much, for a few different reasons.

The Council is now proposing to drop the rate to 2.98 mills, a 7.19 percent increase over the full rollback, with —  for every $1,000 of taxable property — $1.63 targeted for general government, 75 cents for parks and recreation operations and 60 cents to pay off outstanding debt and interest.

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

In part because of reassessments on property values, 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 — otherwise it’s considered a tax increase.

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 jail after the Corrections Corp. of America vacated the facility a few years ago.

The jail is the “elephant in the room,” Councilman Sam Couvillon said.

The city owes $6.52 million on the jail alone.

Councilman George Wangemann said he is praying hard the city finds a tenant for the jail. Wangemann has openly opposed a tax increase.

These are payments the city can’t postpone, officials said, which is why they are considering an increase in taxes to fund this obligation.

Gainesville CFO Melody Marlowe, also serving as interim city manager, said 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.  

The potential tax increase would produce an additional $700,000 to pay for debt and parks, according to Marlowe.

City Council will hold three public hearings on the proposed increase in September and October.

Residents who did not have their property values rise will see a small reduction in taxes this year, said Mayor Danny Dunagan.

Finally, the city school board will lower its property tax rate from 7.48 to 6.89 to avoid any tax increase.

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