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Hall commissioners host budget open house tonight
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Open house

What: Public forum to unveil fiscal year 2015 budget proposal

When: 5:30-7 p.m. today

Where: Commission meeting room at the Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

Hall County will host an open house with the public tonight to discuss the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget.

Finance officials are projecting between $91 million and $92 million in general fund revenue, up from about $87 million this year.

But there’s a good chance that projection will be downsized once the Board of Commissioners adopt the budget in June.

“First of all, you have to identify where the additional revenue came from,” Commissioner Craig Lutz said.

The tax digest, or taxable property, has increased 6.58 percent over the last year, with much of the growth coming as a result of reassessing values on lakefront properties.

Reassessed properties account for a $246 million increase in new taxable value. Real growth, or new construction, totals $81.6 million.

As a result, the Board of Commissioners will likely roll back the millage rate. Not doing so would amount to a tax increase because much of the new revenue stems from appreciations in property value.

“My feeling is the number’s going to be right around $90 million,” Lutz said.

New growth, however, requires new services. And that explains why county officials are considering tapping the reserve fund to balance the budget this year.

“I’d much rather use reserves than cause a tax increase,” Commissioner Jeff Stowe said. “Thank goodness we’re healthy enough to do that.”

Lutz said between $2.5 million and $5 million in the reserve fund had been marked for use this year.

“But I still don’t feel comfortable putting it on paper,” he said, adding $5 million was much too high.

These issues and more will be up for discussion tonight during the budget forum at the Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville.

County Administrator Randy Knighton said residents will be given an overview of the budget, including funding priorities, and will have an opportunity to address their concerns with department heads, commissioners and finance officials.

In recent years, turnout at this event has been poor, county officials said.

“Expectations and what I would hope are two different things,” Stowe said of the open house.

But officials said they are hopeful things will change.

“We always seek ways to get better,” Knighton said.

Officials said the budget presentation delivered tonight will be posted to the county website on Wednesday.

A formal budget hearing will be held when the Board of Commissioners meets June 12, and adoption of the budget is expected at a June 26 meeting.