Hall County’s next budget includes plans to invest in "high-quality employees" and infrastructure while also cutting the tax rate.
Officials anticipate making up the revenue difference through other tax collections, which are on the rise.
The county’s proposed general fund millage rate for the upcoming fiscal year is 5.36 mills, a decrease from the 2018 fiscal year’s rate of 6.7 mills and rollback rate of 6.356 mills. One mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value.
The decrease is due to the county’s service delivery strategy agreement, a restructuring of tax service districts that ensures taxpayers are only charged for the services they actually receive.
The budget’s two main focuses are compensation for county employees and capital improvements, including road, building and sewer improvements, ambulance replacement, the reopening of Murrayville Park and a new records management software for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. The county will also be investing in renovations and repairs at the county’s older fire stations.
The county’s total proposed budget is slightly more than $266 million, with $207.8 million set aside for operating costs and $58.4 million budgeted for capital funds.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners held a special called meeting Thursday, where Zach Propes, the county’s financial services director, presented the proposed budget. There were no public comments at Thursday’s meeting, the only hearing scheduled before the budget is set to be adopted June 28.
County employees will receive 5 percent pay increases, with those increases costing a total of $4.3 million for the 1,716 positions included in the proposed budget. The budget also calls for a 2 percent retirement match increase, which will cost the county $1.5 million. The county plans to hire 14 new full-time equivalent employees in the upcoming fiscal year, including two new school resource officers, parks and building maintenance staff and a custodian for the new annex at the Hall County Courthouse.
Investing in compensation and benefits will help the county retain long-term employees and will attract qualified new employees, Propes said.
“We need to maintain high-quality employees who provide the services that this great community requires of us,” Propes said after the meeting.
The majority of every county tax dollar, or 64.77 percent, will go to Hall County schools. The county’s general fund will receive just under 19 percent of each tax dollar, while fire services will get 9.38 percent, about 2 percent will go to emergency services, development services will receive 3.56 percent, and 1.29 percent of each tax dollar will go to parks and leisure services.
The proposed budget projects about $42.7 million in property tax revenue, accounting for about 44 percent of the county’s revenue. That is a 10.81 percent decrease from the previous year. The second largest revenue source is other taxes, and Propes noted that the county has seen a 7 percent increase in sales tax revenue over the past year.
Hall County’s estimated population is now about 200,000, compared to slightly more than 180,000 in 2008. Population growth is not the only deciding factor in investing in county services and capital projects such as road improvements, Propes said after the meeting.
The county also has a high daytime population of workers, as well as tourists and people passing through to go to other areas in North Georgia. Those people drive on county roads and benefit from services such as fire services and the sheriff’s office, he said.
“We’re a corridor community, and we’re a vacation community,” Propes said. “Lake Lanier draws a lot of people here, and those individuals require services from the Hall County government.”
The county’s service delivery strategy agreement, a result of discussions with the county’s cities last year, will change the tax districts residents see on their upcoming bills.
There will be a new tax district for unincorporated Hall taxpayers for developmental services, which includes road maintenance, planning, code enforcement and engineering. Taxpayers will also see a new district for emergency services that will apply to all people in both unincorporated and incorporated Hall. That rate will cover Emergency Medical Services, which everyone in the county receives.
The fire services district and its rate structure will not change, and all property owners except those in the city of Gainesville will be taxed for that district.
The agreement has resulted in a shift in millage rate from the incorporated tax rate to the unincorporated tax rate, Propes said.
“The county historically was charging the incorporated resident for services that the county was not providing to them yet the city was providing to them,” Propes said after the meeting. “In order to make it more equitable and charge taxpayers for services that they not only are receiving but have available to them based on location, we had to do that millage rate shift to be in compliance with the 2017 service delivery agreement.”
The new fiscal year begins July 1.