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Residents briefed on lakefront tax adjustments
Chief appraiser says bills are up to commissioners
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Property reassessment

What: Residents have one more chance to hear about lakefront property reassessments in Hall County.

When: 6 p.m. April 17

Where: Mulberry Creek Community Center, 4491 J.M. Turk Road

Contact: 770-531-6720

Chris Slate didn’t exactly leave the meeting a happy camper.

“I don’t think this was well publicized,” said the owner of Southern Realty in Gainesville. “I think a lot of people would have been out here if they had known this was about their property taxes.”

About 35 people, or less than half a roomful, showed Thursday at the North Hall Community Center off Nopone Road for the first of two public meetings scheduled by the Hall County Tax Assessors office on reassessments of property fronting Lake Lanier — values that, in some cases, could be significantly higher than residents have seen.

Chief Appraiser Steve Watson didn’t mince words.

“There’s going to be some cases where we’re going to actually lower some values. It will be the exception, though,” he said.

His office, which is planning to mail out residential and personal property notices May 16, is completing a “real estate equalization project” involving an in-depth study of lakefront property values and how they align with respective property sales.

To help with that effort, the county hired GMASS Inc. of Dawsonville in late July, a contract that cost $327,500. GMASS has conducted residential, land and commercial and industrial appraisals in other Georgia counties, including Gwinnett, Barrow, Dawson and Franklin.

Watson told the audience he realized his office needed some help when one of his appraisers, now retired, showed him the sale price on a vacant lot.

“It was just incredulous — what they paid for the property was so much more than (the value) we had on it,” he said. “I realized then that this (effort) was more than just tweaking (values) a little bit.”

Watson gave the audience a few examples of value gaps, including one lakefront property assessed at $1.4 million that sold for $2.8 million.

“We found a significant amount of discrepancies with what we had and what was actually out there,” he said.

Watson talked some about why inconsistencies weren’t corrected sooner. One of the issues the office faced was a 2009-11 statewide moratorium on raising values.

The county also is placing values on boat docks around the lake, a process done after officials traveled the shoreline and surveyed all of the Army Corps of Engineers property in Hall County. The corps has issued some 5,000 dock permits.

Watson has said the county discovered 1,820 boat docks “that we did not have (on record), that have never been in the tax digest.”

“Boat docks are taxable and are part of the consideration when people buy and sell lakefront property — not only whether it has a boat dock, but whether it can have a boat dock.”

Watson spent about 30 minutes presenting information and another 30-plus minutes fielding questions.
Several people asked about the reassessments’ impact on tax bills.

Watson said his office only sets values, not tax rates, with that job falling to local governing boards.

“Stuff like this makes elected officials nervous, when we get to raising property values,” he told the group. “They’re going to have a budget and a tax digest, so they’re going to have to make some decisions about what they’re going to do with the (tax) rate.”

The tax digest is a list of taxable properties.

Scott Gibbs, the Hall County Board of Commissioners’ North Hall representative, said after the meeting he believes property values likely will be met with a rollback in the tax rate.

“While the lakefront owners may see an increase (in taxes), the average citizen should see a decrease,” he said. “I would vote to roll it back.”

Watson also said taxpayers don’t just have to accept the values placed on their property. Residents have 45 days to appeal once notices go out.

Speaking to one audience member’s concerns about his mother’s property, he said, “We’re happy to take a look at it and make sure her valuation is not more than it should be.”

Jim and Frances Brock, who live off Clarks Bridge Road, said after the hearing they’re concerned about their property’s new value.

“You don’t know what to expect. We just have to wait and see,” Jim Brock said.

But Frances Brock complimented Watson on his presentation.

“We thought he was very honest and knowledgeable,” she said. “He seemed straightforward in answering questions.”

Another resident, C.D. Noble, who lives off the lake in the Sardis community, said he came to the meeting seeking to find out how much values would go up.

“I didn’t really learn a whole lot,” he said. “I’m pretty sure my property is going to go up a good bit ... basically because it hasn’t changed in several years.”

As for how to brace for the notice, Noble said he believes there’s nothing special to do but wait.

“When you get it, you just have to pay it and go, unless you can find something in there you can protest about,” Noble said.

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