Hall County commissioners approved the fiscal year 2014 budget.
The property tax rate for the general fund stayed at 6.25 mills, which equals $6.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The county taxes assessed value at 40 percent.
The Fire Fund millage rate increased .75 mills to fund a relocated fire station, a new fire station, 15 additional firefighters, vehicles and equipment.
The 2014 budget is $186 million, with $87 million in the general fund.
The Hall County School District millage rate, which was approved by the commission, is 19.25 mills, up from last year’s rate of 18.49.
Commissioner Jeff Stowe said the Hall County Board of Education sets that.
One mill is equal to $1 of every $1,000 of assessed property value.
Commissioners also ratified the $69,000 purchase of 4 acres at the intersection of Will Wallace and Ledan roads to build a fire station.
The fate of LL Farms LLC and the future of “agri-entertainment” businesses in Hall County drew a packed house Thursday night at the Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting.
Lawyers for business owners David and Michelle Gibbs and for their neighbors in Clermont argued both sides of an issue likely to spring up as farm and barn “experiences” become money-making ventures.
Commissioners unanimously denied the commercial zoning request of the Gibbses, who were operating an event venue at their barn in Clermont. The barn held events, including weddings, proms and fundraisers, without a business license.
“They’ve done a lot for our community,” resident Kevin Wetzel said. “We’re fortunate to have them.”
Attorney Steve Gilliam, representing several of the neighbors, urged the board to reject the application. He said LL Farms continued to operate even though it had been issued citations for not meeting county ordinances.
The Gibbses were issued four citations on March 18 after a complaint was called into the Hall County Marshal’s Office.
“They have no certificate of occupancy for that building,” Gilliam said. “That’s deplorable to me.”
Gilliam said he was “shocked” by the actions of the Gibbses. David Gibbs is a fire inspector with the city of Gainesville.
“They have been operating in violation of the fire safety code, putting first responders and people in the facility at risk,” Gilliam said.
Wes Robinson, the attorney representing the Gibbses, said he wanted to clear up a lot of misinformation. He filed a constitutional objection with the county, asserting issues with equal protection and due process. The Gibbses have 30 days to pursue that, Robinson said.
“I thought we still lived in America,” he said. “A citation doesn’t mean you’re guilty of anything.”
He said he imagined everyone on the commission has been to an event at a barn that doesn’t have a business license operating events exactly like the ones LL Farms held. He didn’t specify what he was he referring to.
Commissioner Scott Gibbs, representing the district where the Gibbses’ barn is located, made the motion to deny the request, saying he couldn’t support a business that disturbs other people’s lives.
“If (the barn) was in the middle of 50 acres, I would be the person to raise my hand and vote for it,” the commissioner, who is not related to David and Michelle Gibbs, said. “But it’s not. It is extremely close to a lot of houses.”
Michelle Gibbs said she was disappointed with the decision. When it’s going on other places, they should have the same rights, she said.
“I think it’s political,” she said. “We will seek another route,” she said. “We’re not going to stop.”
The Walters Barn in Lula has held similar events for many years without a business license. The barn burned down in a fire days before marshals visited the Clermont barn.
The commissioners also considered an agri-entertainment ordinance that would regulate similar events within agricultural zoning areas.
Under the proposed ordinance, hosts must have a business license for events such as corn mazes, pumpkin patches, wine tastings and fundraisers, even if they’ve been zoned for agri-entertainment. The building for the event must be at least 200 feet from any property line and parking must be 30 feet from property lines. The draft ordinance also includes limiting noise and the number of attendees. The minimum lot size would be 15 acres.
Resident and frequent meeting attendee Doug Aiken said the ordinance could hurt Jaemor Farms, a family-owned business off Cornelia Highway in the county.
“This is not ready,” Aiken said. “You don’t want to do this.”
Commissioners asked staff to look at changes, including increasing the lot size and looking at recent changes in conservation land use.
The commissioners will consider the ordinance again at the July 11 meeting.