Three public hearing on a proposed tax increase funding the 2011-12 Hall budget
First tax hearing
When: 6 tonight
Where: Georgia Mountains Center
Contacts: 770-535-8288 or hallcounty.org/budget
Second tax hearing
When: Noon June 30
Where: Georgia Mountains Center
Board of Commissioners meeting
When: 6 p.m. June 30
Where: Georgia Mountains Center
More information: Vote on the budget will be taken after the public is heard
Arrive early if you want a good seat.
The first of three public hearings on Hall County’s proposed property tax increase to help fuel a $92.8 million budget takes place tonight in the Georgia Mountains Center arena.
The hearing starts at 6 p.m. and Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver expects a large crowd.
“The last meeting had an overflow crowd that we had not anticipated,” he said Monday.
The latest version of the county’s fiscal 2012 budget, which takes effect July 1, seeks to restore employee retirement benefits as well as much of the previously cut funding for the county’s parks and emergency services.
“It allows us to not shut down some ambulances or lay off firemen,” Oliver said. “It does have a cut of 35 to 50 (employees).”
The first version of the county’s budget, rolled out on June 2, contained no hike in the tax rate, showing total revenues of nearly $84.6 million. With the county dipping into its reserves by $1.4 million, that amount was bumped to nearly $86 million.
The spending plan eliminated funding for two of 16 ambulances, threatened to shut down 16 parks and left the county’s library board with a decision to close as many as four libraries.
The library board decided June 14 to close two branches and reduce operating hours at the remaining four. The decision means 21 part-time staff positions and four full-time employees will be terminated in July.
Apart from the library system, the original version has the county spending $557,700 in unemployment costs for 65 employee layoffs. The revised budget shows $265,980 in those costs for 31 layoffs.
Also, under the new budget, employees would be spared in development services and corrections departments. The jobs of emergency first responders would be saved, but staff would be cut in the Emergency Management Agency.
“I’ve told our folks through email to not get excited (about the revised budget),” said Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell. “We’re just going to have to see what happens on June 30.”
Also, the revised budget calls for 12 furlough days to remain intact but allows employees to keep nine paid holidays.
Overall, the new spending plan adds $8 million in property tax revenue and avoids pulling $1.4 million from the reserve to produce total revenues of $92.8 million.
The tax rate hike would vary depending on where residents live.
For those living outside the cities, the rate would jump to 9.45 mills from 7.76; inside a city other than Gainesville, 11.14 mills from 8.96; and inside Gainesville, 7.66 mills from 6.25. One mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed value, with property assessed at 40 percent in the county.
The overall rate is the sum of the general fund tax and the fire fund tax.
The general fund tax is the same for all residents, jumping to 7.66 mills from 6.25. Part of the rate increase, 0.39 mills, is considered a “roll up,” or a tax increase that helps offset average losses in county property values.
Residents who live outside the cities would see their fire tax rate jump to 1.79 mills from 1.51, and those who live inside a city other than Gainesville would see it jump to 3.48 mills from 2.71.
Gainesville residents don’t pay a fire tax because the city operates a fire department. The city’s general fund — not a separate fire fund — covers expenses in the fire department, Chief Jon Canada said.
The fire rate is higher for residents who live in the other cities because Hall County receives fire insurance premium taxes only for unincorporated areas.
County spokeswoman Nikki Young said the fire rate tax increases, including a roll-up that just keeps the revenue amount at the same amount as this year, maintains services but also restores benefits and the additional furlough days that the general fund don’t cover.
Oliver said the revised budget will “keep our community intact, but we’ll still need to be very frugal and very conservative with the money as we go forward.”
He added: “I’m not sure if the votes are there for this new budget. If not, by June 30, we will decide on which budget we’re going to use. I’m committed to that night coming away with a budget.”
Commissioner Craig Lutz said he doesn’t support the tax increase and, therefore, can’t support the revised budget.
“It looks like we’re going to take about $8 million out of the economy but only put about $3.2 million back into it,” he said.
“Funding retirement is a good thing to do, but that money is not going to be spent until years in the future.
“And the remainder of the money is going back into salaries in one form or another. ... And salaries get taxed by the state and federal government, Social Security and all that stuff.”
Commissioner Ashley Bell said he believes the budget is “still fluid.”
“I think some of the cuts are still up in the air, but one thing we’re sure of is, with or without a tax increase, there’s going to be substantial layoffs,” he said.
Bell added that since the county advertised a potential tax increase, “I’m hearing a lot more people in my district who are opposed to (the increase) than I did before.”
“The vast majority of the emails I’m getting are against the tax increase,” Lutz said. “Of course, I think most people know where I stand on (the issue), so I may not be getting a lot of the traffic that some people are getting.”
Charles E. Lewis, chairman of the Hall County Republican Party, sent an email Monday to the commissioners, reporting the results of an “unscientific poll taken of our dues-paying members.”
“One hundred percent of the respondents are against a tax increase and 84 percent support disciplinary action if you continue to disregard the fundamental principals (of the Hall County GOP),” Lewis said.
The other public hearings are set for noon and 6 p.m. June 30 at the Georgia Mountains Center. Budget approval is set for that night, following the 6 p.m. meeting.