A South Hall Republican Club meeting on Monday ended with a grilling about potential tax and sewer rate increases for two members of the Hall County Board of Commissioners.
Chairman Richard Higgins and Commissioner Kathy Cooper spoke to a packed room at the South Hall GOP’s meeting at the Spout Springs branch of the Hall County Library in Flowery Branch. The two gave a review of the county’s 2016 operations and discussed its 2017 developments, including Georgia Department of Transportation’s multiyear, $92 million widening of Spout Springs Road, but the audience of more than 50 people became most animated about coming changes to county sewer rates and the possibility of a property tax increase.
Hall County is set to align its sewer rates with the city of Gainesville, which will mean a rate increase for many customers, to cover what in the past few years has been a gaping hole in its budget for the utility.
“Part of the problem started when the projections for sewer tap lines came in,” Cooper said. “We should have had 4,200 people in 2013 — we had 2,221. You can see you’re 2,000 short right there. … It was going to pay for itself, and we found out that it just didn’t.”
The county is expanding the reach of its sewer system, but is still only halfway to its 2017 goal of 5,000 customers. This year might be the first it ends up in the black.
“We’re still struggling. This year, if everything goes well, we will get a $200,000 profit,” Cooper said. “Last year we lost $421,000. The year before that it was $508,000. In 2014 it was $1.2 million.”
But because the county sewer system is a utility, Cooper said the board can’t “burden every citizen in Hall County” with the bill for running it.
That has to come from ratepayers, which didn’t sit well with many of the customers attending Monday’s meeting.
Speakers from the audience in the town hall-style meeting, taking turns posing questions and giving opinions to Higgins and Cooper, said they were being overcharged or that prices were increasing too quickly.
One South Hall resident said his sewer and water bill increased $400 across nine months and that his property tax assessment was expected to cause his tax bill to jump $300.
“I’m going to be paying $700 more for this year, years going forward, and there’s a lot of people in this room who are going to be paying that much and more,” he said. “Increases are way too fast — you’re doing too much.”
The county’s public budget process and decisions about property taxes will begin this month after the government’s tax digest — the summary of all of the property values, and therefore the expected tax revenue, in the area — is published in the coming days.
Higgins said county commissioners have heard estimates that total property values could increase by as much as 7 percent, but when asked by the audience what the county will do about property taxes, the chairman only said property tax rates haven’t increased in three or four years and that the county is expecting more expenses this year in its judicial system.
“We have to wait and see what kind of digest we get,” Higgins said. “... You’re basing everything on that digest.”