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Lakefront property tax appeals below forecast
Most Lanier homeowners to see bills increase this year
Lake residents have banded together to protest county property reassessments that have significantly raised their home values and thus taxes. From left are Karen Ferguson, Berly West Baker, Howard Baker, Carol Smith, Curtis Iocco, Tom Steusloff and Torey Bennett. Led by Bennett, the group has launched an online campaign and even printed hats, yard signs and business cards for their cause.

Lakefront homeowners across Hall County have vowed in recent weeks to appeal the latest reassessments on their property, and now the final tally is in.

According to Chief Assessor Steve Watson, 3,503 appeals were made before the June 30 deadline.

Watson said a few more might trickle in, but the total will be significantly less than he had anticipated.

There were 2,700 appeals made in 2013, and Watson said he expected that figure to double this year after the reassessment of property values on 6,558 lakefront homes.

The reassessments have driven up taxes on about 90 percent of lakefront properties. The average increase in assessed value is 39 percent, or about $104,000, and this equates to a more than $1,000 hike in taxes, on average, county officials said.

But many residents have seen their property values double and triple, or more.

The re-evaluation of properties helped grow the county tax digest by 6.58 percent. 

As a result, county commissioners voted last month to roll back the property tax rate to 5.989 mills to remain revenue neutral. Not doing so would have amounted to a tax increase.

But lakefront homeowners are still going to see their tax bills grow this year.

And their outrage has inspired a petition drive seeking to place a cap on the amount property values can rise in a single year. The small but growing group has launched an online campaign and printed hats, yard signs and business cards touting their mission.

Torey Bennett has been vocal in his opposition to the reassessments, speaking at several county commission meetings and helping to organize disgruntled residents.

Bennett owns four properties in the county, one of which has seen a nearly 700 percent increase in value, he said.

“A homeowner has a budget, as well,” he said. “We didn’t budget for this.”

Bennett said he is considering a class-action lawsuit against the county.

Residents are also questioning the methodology used in the reassessments. For example, Ann Marie Peck said her home value went up $60,000, which equates to a $700 increase in taxes.

Peck’s home is on High View Court in Gainesville, near the lake, but not exactly on it.

“We are not on the lake,” she said. “That whole street got appraised at lakefront values. We’re at least 2 miles from the lake.”

Last year, appeals losses shrunk the tax digest by about 0.36 percent, but that figure is expected to grow this year. And any losses will reduce the general fund budget.

Watson said the appeals process is already underway and he expects to mail revised assessment notices in mid-August.