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Hall commissioners waive penalties on tax installments
County works with residents on confusion over 2-payment plan
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Board names new clerk

Hall County hired former Flowery Branch clerk Melissa McCain as the new clerk for the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

McCain, who will begin Jan. 18, will serve as the county commission's intermediary with the public and other elected officials. She will be responsible for preparing materials for commission meetings, such as meeting agendas and minutes, and providing information regarding decisions and actions of the board.

McCain is replacing Heather Coggins, who resigned in mid-December.

McCain served as the city clerk of Flowery Branch from 2005 to 2011. She was serving in the same position for the city of Doraville until accepting this post.

"I had the opportunity to work with Melissa in Flowery Branch, and she is well qualified for this position. I'm excited that she is coming back home to serve our county," said County Commissioner Craig Lutz in a county press release.

In the same release, County Administrator Randy Knighton said McCain would be "a valuable addition to our staff."

McCain's predecessor, Coggins, had served as commission clerk since 2008. She had been with the county since 2005.

County spokeswoman Nikki Young said Coggins left to "pursue other opportunities."

Aaron Hale

Call it a charitable spirit, smart politics or just an effort to make things right.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners signaled Monday that it would forgive interest penalties for taxpayers confused by the county's two-installment tax payment program of 2011.

At Monday's work session, commissioners reviewed seven requests for a refund of interest due because of late payment on tax bills. Six of the seven requests reported confusion about the 2011 installment program that required taxpayers to pay at least half of their annual county property taxes by Oct. 1. The second half was due Dec. 1. Failure to pay both installments on time came with an interest fee on payments.

That plan was ditched after its first year due to public disapproval.

In one of the six requests considered by the commissioners, Gainesville resident Kim Ricketts wrote to Hall Tax Commissioner Keith Echols that she had originally thought the partial payment was optional.

Despite information through local media outlets and the county's website announcing the installments were mandatory, Ricketts said she didn't learn that until she called the tax commission office to ensure her payment was received.

"I am paying the interest charge," she wrote. "This was my oversight. But it was an honest mistake."

Ricketts, who paid the full tax amount on Nov. 26, went on to write that in 22 years as a property taxpayer her family had never before been delinquent.

The commissioners said they would accept Ricketts' request for a refund and the others' as well.

Some commissioners said at least part of the responsibility for the confusion was on the county.

"I think it's the fair thing to work with these folks," said Commissioner Scott Gibbs, who highlighted that he did not vote for the two-installment plan.

Gibbs said the county "didn't do a good enough job" getting information about the new installment plan to the public, especially considering that the one installment plan due on Dec. 1 had been in place for so long.

County Chairman Tom Oliver said Monday, "Our goal is to make it right — not to intimidate them but to work with them."

More requests of a similar nature are expected, and commissioners said they are willing to waive more.

That doesn't mean the county would open Pandora's box to all requests for waivers, Gibbs said. He pointed out that the interest charges that were waived on Monday were from property owners who paid their full amounts before the Dec. 1 deadline.

Oliver said, "We're willing to be user-friendly provided you take the time to make the request to the commission."

That courteous mood was extended between commissioners, too. A year ago, as new commissioners Gibbs and Craig Lutz were introduced to the board, heated exchanges broke out as the newcomers and Commissioner Ashley Bell united to clean house of high-level county staff. That spirit carried through much of 2011, but eventually eased off as the commissioners became better acquainted.

No one objected when it came to the requests to refund late charges on the failed 2011 property tax payment plan.


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