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Oakwood formally asks Hall County to look at city fire tax
City wants same rollback as unincorporated areas
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Oakwood followed through Tuesday on its vow to formally contact the Hall County Board of Commissioners about what it deems as fire tax inequalities between the city and unincorporated areas of the county.

In a letter to Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton, City Manager Stan Brown asked the commission to “apply the same fire district millage rate rollback to city of Oakwood taxpayers as is provided to unincorporated taxpayers.”

“Since the rollback to unincorporated taxpayers is based on the insurance premium tax payment the county receives from the state of Georgia, the city of Oakwood will agree to forward the insurance premium tax payment” in exchange for the rollback, Brown wrote.

Currently, property owners in Oakwood pay a higher fire tax rate than unincorporated areas of the county due to the way the city and the county use the state insurance premium money they receive.

The county chooses to use the money to offset the fire tax by rolling back the millage rate in unincorporated areas, whereas the city applies it to the general fund.

Oakwood’s tax rate is 1.43 mills higher than in unincorporated areas. One mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. The county assesses property at 40 percent of its value.

This arrangement is the same as every city in the county, with the exception of Gainesville, which has its own fire department.

What separates Oakwood from Hall’s other cities, Oakwood officials have said, is the South Hall city’s large amount of business and commercial properties and lower population.

That creates a gap between the amount of money the city receives from the state on the tax of insurance premiums and the amount of money paid by property owners for fire services from the county.

The city receives $205,000 in state tax payments, while Oakwood property owners pay about $800,000 in fire taxes.
Oakwood City Council voted in January to formally contact county officials on the matter.

Knighton said the letter would be distributed to commissioners.

“I’m sure that, in the coming days, there’ll be some discussion about that,” he said. “Basically, we’ll have to engage our county commissioners to determine what their thoughts are.”

County Commissioner Craig Lutz, who attended the Oakwood meeting, said he believes the commission would be open to discussing the proposal.

“Overall, I would welcome the discussion,” he said.

The whole issue has prompted discussion in the city of possibly going another route — setting up its own fire department.

“If we were to (do that), we would have to charge pretty much the same millage rate the county is charging our taxpayers in order to run a fire station,” Brown has said. “That’s something we’ll need to look at, but I think our first step is to see if this is an issue for our taxpayers.”