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Property tax: Will you pay more or less?
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Tax digest
The total value of all taxable property in Hall County by which the Hall County Board of Commissioners sets the tax rate for the next fiscal year. Hall County properties are assessed at 40 percent of their value for tax purposes. One mill equals $1 of tax on every $1,000 of taxable value.

2015 tax digest: $6,657,338,922, including $282,324,211 in growth from reassessments
2014 tax digest: $6,353,337,125

Few things are as continually contentious in Hall County as reassessments on property values. The issue flared up again last month as the Board of Commissioners debated a budget for the 2016 fiscal year and a possible tax increase.

Ultimately, officials approved a $93.6 million general fund budget and roll backed the property tax millage rate to 5.735 from 5.989 to remain revenue neutral, offsetting increases from reassessments on commercial, industrial and residential properties.

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

Had officials left the tax rate unchanged, it would have produced an additional $1.6 million in revenue.

But some property owners are still going to pay higher taxes this year because the offset means others will pay less.

And that fact prompted about 2,700 appeals during a 45-day period between mid-April and early June, with 1,251 coming from commercial and industrial properties, or about 29 percent of all such properties in the county. The remainder came from residential properties.

More than 72 percent of commercial and industrial properties increased in value, while another 25 percent decreased. The rest were unchanged.

Assessors this year focused on commercial and industrial properties, so most residential properties remained unchanged, though about 16 percent did see values increase.

Now comes a period of revision when the Hall County Tax Assessors office will likely slightly reduce assessed values on most properties. Every appeal will be addressed and appraisers will confirm or adjust the valuations.

But some property owners are not likely to be satisfied.

Already, 67 commercial and industrial property appeals, and 47 residential appeals, have been flagged to forward to the state Board of Equalization, which has the final say on disputes.

Property value assessments are dictated in large part by state law, which removes the leeway the tax assessor’s office has in adjusting values.

For example, the state warned Hall County that its 2010 tax digest had “not obtained the degree of uniformity and equalization that is required by law.”

Assessments, which are supposed to be based on sales and “fair market value,” on commercial, industrial and residential properties each fell outside the established variance parameters and exceeded deviation limits mandated by the state.

The “deficiencies” were corrected by 2013 and the county avoided a $375,000 penalty, according to Hall County Chief Appraiser Steve Watson.

But remaining in compliance continues to be a challenge, particularly as the real estate market picks up and sales values continue to fluctuate, according to Watson.

That’s why, he said, his office focused on reassessing lakefront properties last year, which drove up values and taxes owed on about nine in 10 homes and prompted more than 5,000 appeals.

Commercial and industrial properties were the focus this year, and agricultural properties could be examined in depth next year.

Watson said he expects to mail revised assessment notices the first week in August. Property owners still not satisfied can then file an appeal with the state Board of Equalization.

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