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Property values leveling off leads to increased tax revenue
0414DIGEST.Steve Watson
Steve Watson

Hall County property values seem to be stabilizing after two years of significant drops in the tax digest.

County property assessment notices were mailed Friday. Residents have until May 28 to appeal the value of their property.

The 2013 preliminary tax digest — the combined value of all taxable property in the county — is about $5.95 billion, down less than 1 percent from when notices were mailed last year. The digest dropped about 6 percent in 2011 and 2012 before the appeals period, and then was readjusted to show slightly bigger drops after appeals.

“Stability is better than instability,” Hall County Chief Appraiser Steve Watson said. “Hopefully we’re settling in a little bit.”

The numbers indicate that the economy is improving. Sales are on the rise, Watson said. A larger tax digest means new business and growth.

The digest also indicates funds available for local governments and school systems, as property taxes are based on the value of property. Each entity sets its own millage rate. One mill equals $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value.

Richard Mecum, Hall County Board of Commissioners chairman, said he was cautiously optimistic about the preliminary numbers. He said he’s not in favor of the county raising its millage rate.

“Now’s not the time to raise taxes,” he said.

In 2011 and 2012, 70 percent of property in the county was adjusted, with most of it going down in value, Watson said. Out of the 20 percent of properties adjusted in 2013, slightly more than half of values went down.

“Our responsibility is not to raise revenue,” Watson said. “It’s only to value the property at fair market value.”

In 2011, the county kept the millage rate the same and made budget cuts, including layoffs, furlough days and cutting other expenses. That was a sign of good, frugal management, Watson said.

Financial Services Director Vickie Neikirk said property taxes are the largest source of revenue for the county, and the preliminary tax digest numbers are a stabilizing factor in the fiscal 2014 budget. Neikirk said she takes the tax digest and multiplies it with the current millage rate to get an idea of the year’s revenues. She doesn’t foresee a change to the millage rate for the next fiscal year.

“I don’t think we’re going to see a drastic drop in tax revenue,” she said. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern.”

Watson said he’s expecting the rate of people appealing their property valuations to drop off a little bit from previous years.

The Georgia General Assembly changed a law in 2011 to require tax assessors to send annual assessment notices to all property owners. The state used to require notices only if there was a change in property value. What used to be about 15,000 notices a couple of years ago is now about 74,000 a year in Hall.

Watson said the appeal rate is normally about 7 percent to 10 percent. The appeal loss in 2011 was 2.37 percent, which reduced the tax digest by 8.4 percent, or about $580 million. In 2012, the loss after appeals was nearly 1.7 percent. Watson estimates a loss this year of 1 percent to 2.5 percent.

The final tax digest numbers are scheduled for submission on July 22.

Watson said residents who don’t receive a notice within the next two weeks should call the office of tax assessors or look on the county website. The county posts undeliverable notices to its website. After the appeal ends, there are no exceptions.

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