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Hall County's tax digest drops
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Hall County’s 2013 final tax digest is down 1.51 percent from last year, according to final numbers from the Tax Commissioner’s office, making the county’s 2014 proposed budget short by $560,000.

The news left some county officials surprised.

“I did not expect it to change that much,” said Vickie Neikirk, county financial services director.

The 2013 preliminary tax digest, which is the combined value of all taxable property in the county, was estimated at about $6 billion.

Chief Appraiser Steve Watson said the digest was estimated at $5.95 billion at a Hall County Board of Commissioners work session on April 9. The final tax digest, released on Monday, was $5.96 billion, a decrease of about $72 million from the initial estimate.

The digest indicates the funds available for local governments and school systems, as property taxes are based on the value of property. Each entity sets its own millage rate.

One mill equals $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. The county uses 40 percent assessed value.

Neikirk wasn’t specific about where the cuts would come from. She is meeting one-on-one with commissioners and said the cuts will be done by June 13.

It was unclear if the tax digest or the budget will be discussed publicly at the county work session on Monday.

Commissioner Jeff Stowe said he was meeting with Neikirk and Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix next week. He has been in training in Atlanta.

“From the preliminary numbers we had (seen) that Steve had given us, there was not very much change in the tax digest at all,” Stowe said. “I don’t know why it’s changed since the preliminary numbers he gave us.”

Katie Crumley, spokeswoman for the county, said County Administrator Randy Knighton doesn’t anticipate cuts in public services, county jobs, employee furloughs and county retirement participation.

Summaries of this year’s final digest from Watson show that the digest was down just 0.32 percent compared with the amount on May 30, 2012.

These numbers don’t yet include an estimated appeal loss, which is where property owners challenge the county’s valuation of the property. Neikirk said a 2 percent appeal loss is built into the budget.

Neikirk said the preliminary digest is done to help the county with budget preparation. The fiscal budget years run from July 1 to June 30.

The commission is scheduled to hold public hearings on next year’s budget at its meetings on June 13 and June 27.

“We have to have some type of estimate in order to work on the budget,” she said.

Classes of property that saw some significant change from the preliminary digest to the final version included commercial and industrial property values and property tax exemptions. The amount of commercial property value went up about $40 million and industrial increased about $7 million.

Lost was about $115 million in revenue from exemptions, which include homestead and freeport. Conservation use also accounts for revenue loss.

Companies can use the freeport exemption for inventory of products, including goods that were manufactured, finished, produced, held or destined to ship outside the state.

Watson said the tax assessor’s office wasn’t finished with all the data it collects when the preliminary digest was put together. He said his office was still dealing with piles of information waiting to be processed after the April numbers were released.

Watson estimated a change in the tax digest at the April work session meeting of between 1 percent and 2.5 percent.

“Scott (Martin, county property tax manager in the tax commissioner’s office) wanted the numbers at that time. We weren’t finished with doing our digest work at that time and that’s an understanding that the tax commissioner has,” Watson said.

The county followed the same tax and budget process as it has in previous years, officials said.

Watson said he gives Martin the data and the property tax manager formulates it. The digest Martin produces goes to the Georgia Department of Revenue.

Commissioner Scott Gibbs said he wasn’t surprised by the decrease. Board Chairman Richard Mecum said he’s meeting with Neikirk today to get the details.

“I was a little surprised,” Mecum said.

Commissioners Billy Powell and Craig Lutz didn’t respond to calls for comment.

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