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Hall commissioners worry about state tax code bill's effect on local funds
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In other business

-Hall County will have an independent committee review the bids regarding who will operate the county's solid waste management in the future. Hall County is allowing bids from its own employees and private companies to operate its landfill, compactor site and recycling center in an effort to reduce costs. Trying to avoid a situation where county officials review and recommend bids potentially coming from within the county, commissioners voted to hire an outside group to analyze and make recommendations on those bids. Commissioners would still have final say on whether to hire a private business for waste management.

-The Hall County Board of Commissioners voted to forgive about $1,000 in interest in late payments for taxpayers confused by the 2011 two-installment tax payment program. The installment program 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. Due to widespread complaints, commissioners nixed the program after its first year. Commissioners forgave a first round of late payments in January. The late interest forgiven ranged from $4 to $311.62 from residents and private businesses.

 

A tax reform bill aimed at easing the burden on Georgia's married couples, gradually dropping the property tax on motor vehicles and offering breaks to businesses was unanimously passed by the state Senate on Thursday.

It now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk for his signature.

"Not only will it be good for consumers and taxpayers," said state Sen. Butch Miller after the vote, "but we think it will be good for businesses and economic development."

Despite celebration from lawmakers on the bill's passage, some local officials were not pleased with speedy passage of the Republican-backed legislation, which was propelled through the General Assembly this week.

Members of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, led by a sharp-tongued Commissioner Scott Gibbs, criticized the speedy process that's left them unsure of how the bill will affect their budget.

The Republican-backed legislation zipped through the General Assembly in the last few days of its annual session with little dissent from Democrats.

"There has been so little discussed about this, we don't even know what passed," said Gibbs at the Hall County Commission meeting Thursday night. "We may be better off; we may be worse off; we don't know."

Gibbs and the other commissioners were critical of local lawmakers and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which lobbies for Georgia counties, for failing to inform them of the bill's local effects.

This week, Republican lawmakers urged their colleagues to support the plan as a way to attract employers in a state with 9.1 percent unemployment. The plan is less sweeping than a tax overhaul abandoned last year and comes at a cost.

Budget officials estimate the tax breaks will create a $49 million deficit next year, a gap equivalent to less than 1 percent of the state budget.

The bill benefits several categories of people and companies:

Married couples would get a $2,000 increase in the amount of income they can shield from the state's income tax.

The state would slowly phase out the annual property tax on motor vehicles. People who buy new or used cars or trucks after March 1, 2013, would pay a one-time tax that tops out at 7 percent. They would no longer get an annual property tax bill pegged on the value of their vehicle.

People who keep their car or trucks past that date will keep paying the annual tax until they buy a new vehicle.

The sales tax that manufacturing, mining and newspaper companies pay on the energy used to produce their goods would be phased out over four years, a step that lawmakers hope will boost the struggling manufacturing sector.

Deal supports the legislation, which would meet tax promises he made during his campaign and in his State of the State speech.

"We have passed a pro-family, pro-jobs tax plan that will go a long way toward making Georgia the No. 1 place in the nation to do business," said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson. However, county commissioners were unsure how those cuts could change how they run their government.

Gibbs was particularly concerned about the elimination of taxes on motor vehicles. Gibbs called that tax "a good portion of the county's revenue." Hall County government faced an $11.5 million budget shortfall last year, due in part to falling property tax revenues. Hall County officials anticipate another shortfall this year.

Any measure that would further cut revenues would not be welcomed by local officials.

State Sen. Butch Miller, in an interview with The Times, responded to those concerns. He said the impacts on county and municipal government budgets "were the No. 1 concern" when it came to addressing the bill's effects. Provisions in the bill were developed, he said, that would "keep counties and the cities whole" in revenue collection.

On its website, the ACCG writes that legislators worked closely with the organization on the motor vehicle tax change to create an "implementation plan that seeks to make this change at least revenue neutral for local governments collectively; however individual local governments may experience some revenue gain or loss."

Gibbs was forthright that he didn't know what exactly had passed on Thursday, but that was the reason why he was
so frustrated.

County Chairman Tom Oliver and Commissioner Ashley Bell were also critical of the ACCG for failing to communicate on this issue. The commissioners voted unanimously to write a letter expressing their disapproval in how the ACCG handled the process.

On the issue of timing, Miller said all of the elements of the bill had been discussed since last year's legislative session.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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