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Hall commission chairman proposes tax increase
Oliver says 1.41 mill increase is necessary to avoid severe service cuts
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Facing an $11.5 million gap in next year's budget, Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver recommended a tax increase Thursday night.

County residents must choose between that or a "massive reduction in services," he said, making his announcement before adjourning the meeting.

"Of my seven years on the commission, our next meeting will be one of the toughest decisions I'll ever make as a chairman," he said.

Oliver proposed a 1.41 mill increase in total, with a 0.6 mill roll up to account for the loss in property values and an additional 0.81 mill increase. The current millage rate is 7.77.

One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed value. The county assesses on 40 percent of the total value.

"I have a $180,000 house, and this increase would cost me 28 cents a day or $101.50," he said. "Let me tell you what the other side is if we don't participate: shutting down parks, libraries, two ambulances and taking away retirement and paid holidays for the employees in Hall County who protect us."

The shortfall comes from a projected 11 percent drop in property tax values, an approximate 25 percent drop in sales taxes and reduced fees in state and superior courts, he said.

"I'm in favor of reinstating 401(k) for employees, and we're seeing an increase in health care and fuel costs," Oliver said. "In addition, the Liberty Mutual building move will cost about $600,000."

Oliver offered his cell phone number and welcomed comments.

"Hall County is too important, and the employees are too important," he said. "I live in Hall County, have a business in Hall County, my children are in Hall County and my grandchildren are in Hall County."

The increase is about taking care of the county's employees, he added.

"We're going to ask the county employees not to worry about their families, but we want them, the medical team and the police to worry about our families," he said. "We're not willing to ask ourselves to worry about their families?"

Oliver didn't inform the other commissioners about his announcement Thursday.

"My core principles include smaller government and lower taxes, so raising taxes doesn't fit in that," Commissioner Craig Lutz said. "We should use the economic downturn to find out how small our government can be and still be effective."

This includes compromise among the county departments, he said.

"Our budget is not perfect, and some areas give too much while others don't, and that's where it becomes a fight that is going to become public now," Lutz said. "Instead of challenging the departments that need to be challenged, this is presenting it to the taxpayers and asking them to debate if an increase is the right thing to do."

Commissioner Scott Gibbs plans to hold a public meeting in Clermont after the county's budget documents are available to the public June 2.

"I want to get input and hear my constituents' desires to move forward," he said.

There's a reason for three public hearings before a budget adoption, Commissioner Ashley Bell said.

"The chairman definitely feels strongly about this, and it definitely takes courage to even bring up a tax increase during this economy when people are on the verge of losing their homes," he said. "This is why public hearings are mandatory before we make a decision, and I look forward to that process."

Commissioners must consider all sides before making a decision, added Commissioner Billy Powell.

"This is a bold position to take," he said. "I'm sure we will receive many comments between now and the next meeting, and I want to study all the options." 

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