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Residents offer feedback over lakefront reassessments
Lanier homeowners concerned higher land values may raise taxes
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Blane Spence seemed satisfied with the presentation concerning property reassessments, but what the Flowery Branch lake dweller had trouble swallowing is how his tax money is spent.

“I get very little in return for the taxes I pay,” he said.

Still, the prospect of taxes going up — perhaps significantly — for many Hall County residents living on the shores of Lake Lanier continues to create a stir, as Chief Appraiser Steve Watson saw Thursday night.

Some 50 people showed for the second of his two presentations on a “real estate equalization project” involving an in-depth study of lakefront property values and how they align with respective property sales.

Watson’s presentation at Mulberry Creek Community Center in South Hall lasted about 30 minutes and the lively — and sometimes testy — question-and-answer session that followed ran for about an hour.

“Is your department going to be able to handle the upcoming mass exodus because some of these retired people are not going to be able to afford their property tax values?” Amanda Dysart asked Watson.

Often during his presentation, Watson didn’t shy from talking about potential impacts of the mass reappraisals.
“Even if (governing boards) do lower the millage rate, some of your taxes are going to go up,” he said.

In some cases, “I don’t care if they cut the millage rate in half, your property taxes are still going to go up,” Watson said.

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

Watson’s office began the residential reassessments, which also include properties not on the lake, last year with the help of GMASS Inc., a Dawsonville firm. The county is paying GMASS $327,500 in the effort.

As he did in the first public meeting earlier this month in North Hall, Watson also talked 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. The corps has issued some 5,000 dock permits in the county.

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.”

He also talked about how his office only sets values, not tax rates, with that job falling to local governing boards.

Residential reassessments will go out May 16. Property owners have 45 days to appeal once notices go out.

Watson already is bracing for that. Speaking after the meeting, he said he expects the number of appeals this year to jump to 5,000 from 2,700 last year.

Still, holding the meetings has been helpful, he said.

“It gives us an idea of what property owners’ perception is, not only of what we’re doing but how that’s going to affect them, and their perception of what they have in terms of lakefront property,” Watson said.

“As appraisers, we’re not emotionally connected to (the property) and all of these people are. Some of their questions are really hard.”

Spence, for one, said he’s not particularly concerned about sticker shock when he gets his reassessment notice.

“I’m going to appeal, though,” he added.