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Gainesville receiving few responses on annexation plan
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Local opinion on Gainesville’s latest proposal to annex 115 “island” properties in Hall County may have begun consolidating as the public hearing on Tuesday nears. The Hall County Board of Commissioners is expected to address the issue in its meeting this evening and city officials continue to take comments from concerned residents.

The Gainesville City Council is scheduled to vote on the plan at its meeting Tuesday, the second of two public meetings that day that will discuss the annexations and hear public comments. According to city documents, annexed county property owners will have to pay about $79,200 more in taxes if the plan’s approved, starting in 2014.

 “It’s un-American,” said Tom Oliver, chairman of the county board of commissioners. “It’s a land grab to bring in more money to the city.”

Some city officials said they have heard only a dozen concerns about the proposal. Councilman Bob Hamrick said he didn’t receive any calls and said he heard the city manager had received two emails on the subject.

“It wasn’t a big deal,” said Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan, referring to the four–to–five calls he’s received about the issue. Dunagan said he told callers that property taxes will increase, but they can get a break on fire insurance and water rates by becoming part of the city. Gainesville is also waiving the sewer tap connection fee for up to a year.

“I told them their business will go forward as it always had been,” he said.

Gainesville attorney Abb Hayes got the annexation notice from his client, SC Gainesville Georgia LLC, the day before Thanksgiving. SC Gainesville, a commercial real estate company, owns the Big Lots shopping center on Browns Bridge Road.

The company, including its tenants of mom-and-pop franchises and national retailers, would have to pay about $16,000 more a year in taxes if the center property were annexed.

“In this economy, we already have a hard time keeping and recruiting tenants, so a tax increase is just going to further hamper our efforts,” he said.

County officials and property owners affected by possible annexation in 2008 and 2009 likely had more time to express their opinions on the issue due to the timing of the annexation letters sent out by the city earlier this month.

The letters to property owners and the county commissioners were sent by mail Nov. 19. City and county government offices were closed on Nov. 22 and 23 for Thanksgiving and a state holiday.

“Nobody — not the shopping center’s owner or tenants — has had time to plan for this kind of increase,” Hayes said.

The city has complied with state regulations, said Rusty Ligon, Gainesville community development director. Gainesville had to give at least 15 days’ notice and no more than 45 days before considering the matter, Ligon said.

The aim of the annexations, focused on 197 acres of commercial and gateway corridor property, is to better define the city’s boundaries and present a consistent appearance in areas where major highways and interstates come in to the city. Community development had received eight calls on the plan.

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