The Hall County Board of Commissioners has proposed a property tax millage rate increase of 26.34 percent.
The proposal calls for a tax rate of 6.95 mills — an increase of 1.449 mills over the rollback rate of 5.501 mills. The county announced the tentative property tax increase and its schedule of hearings on Thursday.
Hall County has scheduled two hearings this coming Thursday and a final hearing on June 22 at 2875 Browns Bridge Road.
The Thursday meetings begin at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., and both will include a full budget presentation and time for public comment.
The third hearing is set for 6 p.m. on June 22, after which commissioners will vote on a budget and millage rate for fiscal year 2018.
The 2016 tax rate was 5.716 mills, according to the 2017 tax digest. The proposed tax rate would be the highest county rate in a decade. County officials defended the tax increase on Thursday, saying that Hall County has seen its property tax fall or stay flat for years.
“Hall County has been extremely frugal as far as our millage rate,” said Commission Chairman Richard Higgins. “It’s been one of the lowest ones (in the state. It’s been flat for the past four or five years. It’s kind of caught up with us to a certain degree.”
Higgins noted that the county budget has grown by less than inflation.
“As anybody, any business entity or any organization realizes, over a period of time costs go up. Unfortunately we’ve had to do this,” Higgins said. “... Nobody likes to raise taxes. It’s not popular. I’m raising taxes on myself, my friends, my family, the people I go to church with. But I was elected to make good decisions, and this was a good decision for the county going forward.”
One mill is a tenth of a penny, meaning that 1 mill in tax equals $100 per every $100,000 in value for a home, but property owners with a home valued at $200,000 would see a tax increase of only about $98 because of a couple of factors, according to Hall County Finance Director Zachary Propes.
The county only taxes 40 percent of property’s market value, Propes said, meaning a $200,000 would only pay tax on the first $80,000.
For unincorporated county residents, most of their tax bill goes to the Hall County School System. A $200,000 home’s tax bill in 2017 sat at about $2,177, according to the county’s “Budget in Brief.”
Only $457 of that is the county’s general property tax, Propes noted. With the higher proposed tax, that bill would be $556.
The county argues the tax increase is justified because of state-mandated costs in the Hall County Superior Court system. A fifth Superior Court judge is being added to the system this year to accommodate the county’s growing population, according to the budget summary.
Propes said the county was notified by the state that it would need to pay for a fifth judge about nine months ago.
The state also requires the county to fund legal representation for low-income youth in its Juvenile Court System and hire additional officers at the Hall County Jail.
Consequently, the county’s public safety budget is expected to jump $3.98 million in 2018, a 9 percent increase over its current $41.7 million budget.
Overall general fund spending will increase almost 7 percent in fiscal year 2018 to $103.6 million.The total budget is $242.6 million — an 8 percent increase over the current year.
Property taxes make up 48 percent of the cash for the county general fund, or $49.75 million. The next-largest contributions come from other taxes (29 percent) and charges for services (11 percent).
County property taxes have been falling since 2014, when the rate was 6.25 mills. The rate peaked in 2004 at 7.52 mills.
The proposed 2018 tax rate of 6.95 mills is about equal to the county’s 2006 rate and is second only to 2004.