Property taxes are going up in Hall County.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a tax increase to 6.7 mills from 5.716 mills for 2018 during its Thursday meeting. The rate was first proposed at 6.95 mills but cut before the final vote to 6.7 mills after commissioners trimmed approximately $1.5 million from next year’s budget.
The reduction was made to capital spending on vehicles and equipment, where commissioners cut about $600,000 in general fund spending, and by postponing new hires and employee raises until October.
They didn’t change the number of new employees — positions will still be added at the Hall County Jail and to support a fifth Superior Court judge — but many of those hires won’t take place until October.
The 2018 budget adopted by the commission includes a $102.1 million general fund. The total county budget, including operating and capital funds, is $241 million.
The reductions mean the average $200,000 house in the county will see its tax bill increase by about $75 next year instead of the $95 in the first proposal.
With the higher tax rate, the county will collect an additional $8.24 million in property taxes in 2018.
The small savings didn’t spare commissioners from a public frustrated by the tax increase, many of whom have seen their property taxes increase for years based on their assessments.
“At 6.7 you’ll be awash in money,” said commenter Douglas Akins, arguing that the county should cut spending instead of raising taxes.
James Chatham said senior citizens on fixed income haven’t received cost-of-living raises like those proposed for most county employees and couldn’t afford the increase. Several other senior citizens made similar comments.
Mike Scupin, founder of the Lanier Tea Party Patriots, adamantly opposed the increase as well as property taxes and income taxes in general. He said both taxes enslave American citizens to the government and “should not exist.”
Property tax alternatives were a repeated subject among commenters. David Williams said the county should, if needed, resort to spending its savings or cutting costs throughout the year instead of raising the property tax.
“Once you raise taxes, that’s done,” said Williams, who also spoke at all of the hearings. “There’s no going back.”
Not all of the 16 people who spoke on Thursday opposed the increase. Otis Hendrix said he supported it because he was missing out on services enjoyed by other residents.
“I might be the only one, but my road needs paving,” Hendrix said. “There’s a park on Gillsville Highway that’s been closed for 10 years. That’s in my neighborhood. It’s closed — it needs to be reopened.”
Entreating the audience that the monthly cost of the tax increase was relatively low and could help county residents, Hendrix turned to the crowd and said “there are other people in this county besides Republicans. Do what’s best for everybody.”
Former County Chairman Richard Mecum also spoke in favor of the tax increase, saying morale among county employees “is reaching another low” without more compensation.
“Hall County deserves better than this,” he said.
While the county budget is growing about 8 percent in the next fiscal year, the majority of the general fund tax increase is going to Hall County law enforcement, the judiciary and cost-of-living raises.
Commissioners defended the tax increase as the first in more than a decade made after a series of cuts in the past few years.
Commissioner Billy Powell noted the anger stirred when the county fired more than 100 employees and shut down parks and libraries.
“People want their services,” Powell said, later adding that “if we make whatever decision we make tonight and you don’t want us in here, you have the power of the vote and we appreciate that.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner Scott Gibbs said state mandates were pushing up county costs.
“Y’all don’t want to hear any excuses; I (am not) going to offer up any excuses, but you better start talking to your state legislators because when they deliver (mandates) to us we have no choice. We are bound by law to institute those — I don’t agree with a single one of them that they’ve sent home,” Gibbs said. “... You better get your blinders off and you better figure out what’s going on in Atlanta and you better figure out what’s going on in Washington.”