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Hall officials split on budget options, others undecided
Millage rate a point of contention in plans
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Hall County proposed FY16 budget — 5 things to know

  • 24 new full-time positions

  • Funding to reopen the courthouse annex in downtown Gainesville

  • $1.4 million for employee raises

  • $100,000 increase for library system

  • $12,000 increase for Division of Children and Family Services


Millage rate

A tax rate applied to the assessed value of real estate. Hall County properties are assessed at 40 percent, and 1 mill equals $1,000 of assessed value. To be revenue neutral, when the tax digest increases due to reassessments, the millage rate should be rolled back.

FY 2015 general fund budget: $90,268,561 (used $3.2 million in reserves)

Proposed FY 2016 general fund budget: $93,119,090

Option 1: Keep the current millage rate of 5.989 and use about $1.56 million in reserves to balance the budget

Option 2: Roll the millage rate back to 5.735 and use about $3.2 million in reserves to balance the budget

 

Upcoming public budget hearings

When: 4 p.m. Monday and 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

The two budget scenarios Hall County officials are considering for the 2016 fiscal year boil down to whether to approve a tax increase or use additional reserve funds to balance the spending plan.  

That’s the big takeaway on Thursday from the first of three public hearings on the budget.

Both options will produce an estimated $93.1 million in general fund revenue, and include money to open the courthouse annex in downtown Gainesville, $1.4 million for employee raises, as well as additional support for the library system and the Division of Family and Children Services.

But they take different approaches to reach that figure.  

Officials are considering whether to keep the property tax millage rate in place at 5.989, which would generate about $1.6 million in additional revenue for the general fund, or approve a rollback to 5.735 to account for increases in revenue from reassessments of commercial, industrial and residential properties this year.

Of more than 4,200 commercial and industrial properties inspected this year, about 60 percent will see a rise in value, according to Chief Tax Appraiser Steve Watson.

Hall County properties are assessed at 40 percent of their value for tax purposes, and 1 mill equals $1,000 of assessed value.

Not rolling back the rate amounts to a tax increase under state law.

But with a full rollback, county officials will need to use $3.2 million in reserve funds to balance the budget. Half that amount is needed otherwise.

Commissioners Billy Powell and Kathy Cooper said they were still considering both funding options and would wait until the conclusion of additional public hearings before making a decision on which to support.

Murrayville resident Mike Nosach said he believed there would be no need for the county to tap additional reserve funds in the next fiscal year.

“I think the revenues coming into the county are going to increase far greater than anticipated,” he said. “My taxes are going to go up no matter which way you vote … so I would prefer a smaller amount than a larger amount.”

Another Murrayville resident, Doug Aiken, also urged officials not to increase taxes.

“There’s no way you can really support maintaining the millage rate as it is …,” he said, adding that the county has built a substantial reserve fund over the past few years that now surpasses $22 million. “You really can’t justify this.”

Commissioners Scott Gibbs and Jeff Stowe said they unequivocally support a full rollback and will not vote for a tax increase.

It’s Chairman Richard Mecum who had the most to say, however.

“We’re not here about a tax increase,” he said. “We’re not considering a rollup.”

Taxes will rise for some property owners even with a rollback, and Mecum argued that continuing to lower the millage rate will hurt the county’s ability to provide services for residents and invest in employees.

The county’s millage rate is already the lowest it’s been since the 1980s and one of the lowest in the state per capita, Mecum said.

“If we roll this back again … we’ve not really done anything to help anybody,” Mecum said, arguing against the use of more reserve funds to balance the budget. “This budget is not solvent.”

What’s in the budget?

Courthouse annex

Hall County is moving forward with reopening the courthouse annex in downtown Gainesville, and will renovate the building and hire eight new security officers in the process.

The proposed budget includes nearly $300,000 in additional funding for the Sheriff’s Office court services division.

“The Sheriff's Office will be working closely with court administration and the commission monitoring the progress of the renovations and the timeline involved,” Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said in a statement to The Times. “It is too early to establish an opening date for the annex as renovations have not yet begun. Additionally, enough time must be allowed to hire and train deputies in preparation of the opening."

Employee raises

The proposed budget includes $1.4 million for employee raises, though officials have not determined how that money will be applied to workers — whether based on merit, experience or perhaps as an across-the-board cost-of-living adjustment.

Officials approved a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for full-time employees last year, the first adjustment since 2008.

Library System

The Hall County Library System will get an infusion of new cash in the next fiscal year if the proposed budget is approved.

The system’s budget fell to about $2.6 million this year from about $3.7 million in 2008, a 30 percent drop. Two branches were shuttered during that time, and layoffs, a reduction in hours of operation and furlough days for workers were among additional cuts made.

The library system will lose about $83,000 in funding from the state in the 2016 fiscal year, which begins July 1, resulting in the loss of at least one employee.

The state funds about a quarter of the system’s budget, and library board members had sought an additional $200,000 in funding from Hall County.

They will get half of that amount.

“I am excited about the opportunity to end furlough days in the library system, increase operating hours for our patrons and to have more accessible book drops,” said Mark Pettitt, a member of the library Board of Trustees. “I commend the commission for their investment in public libraries and a great quality of life for Hall County citizens.”

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