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South Hall tag office may reopen
Tax Commissioners budget request eyes additional branch
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Hall County Tax Commissioner

FY 2015 budget: $1.4 million

FY 2016 request: Between $1.551 and $1.798 million

What’s new: Proposed reopening of South Hall tag office and the addition of a tag renewal kiosk at the North Hall Community Center.

A motor vehicle tag office in South Hall, shuttered as a result of budget cuts in 2011, could soon be resurrected if Hall County Tax Commissioner Darla Eden gets her way.

“We feel the need to have that presence in a full-service mode,” she said, adding that both property tax and vehicle tag services would be handled at the proposed satellite office. “All clerks are cross-trained to do both services now, so we would offer both.”

Eden said she is “cautiously optimistic” about opening a branch within the Sheriff’s Office South Hall headquarters, which opened on Cody Drive in Braselton last November.

Eden had requested reopening a branch to serve this part of the county a year ago, but the Board of Commissioners scrapped those plans during budget negotiations.

“I think last year was a little premature,” Eden said.

But with new commercial and residential development emerging, coupled with the opening of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Braselton, demand for services is growing and it’s time to re-launch the branch, Eden said.

“Almost daily I get an email or a verbal request … from a taxpayer” asking for this, she said.

Eden is requesting a top-end budget of about $1.798 million in the 2016 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

That amount includes a one-time expense of about $63,000 to purchase computers, furniture and security equipment and complete renovations on a 750-square-foot office space within the Sheriff’s facility.

Eden said using inmate labor will help save on construction and build out costs.  

Three to four new full-time tax/tag clerks would be needed to serve customers in South Hall, Eden said, and the additional personnel would cost about $56,000 in salaries for the first six months of the fiscal year.

Total expenses for opening and operating the branch in the last half of the 2015 calendar year would run an estimated $193,000.

But without a South Hall office and a few other spending priorities, Eden’s expenses for the next fiscal year would fall to about $1.5 million.

Meanwhile, Eden said a kiosk will soon be unveiled at the North Hall Community Center to handle tag renewals for residents in that part of the county.

“It’s just restoring service once enjoyed …” she said, adding that it’s a “win-win-win situation for everyone.”

Eden is projecting that her office will generate about $3.9 million in revenue in the next fiscal year.

Though that figure is down from an estimated $4.2 million in the current fiscal year, Eden said it’s a result of an improving economy, fewer sales of properties delinquent on tax payments and also “a sign of this office being more proactive in our collecting.”

Expenses total just 34 percent of revenues generated by the Tax Commissioner’s office in the current fiscal year, though that number could rise to 46 percent if the South Hall branch is reopened, “which is well below the average of counties around us,” Eden said.

Forsyth County, for example, has a similar population size and spent about 60 percent of revenues generated in the 2014 fiscal year.

With a South Hall branch open, Eden said her office would only spend about $9.67 for every resident in the county.

Forsyth, meanwhile, coughed up $14.91 per resident in the 2014 fiscal year.

“The Tax Commissioner’s office is funded by fees and commissions associated with the operation of this office,” Eden said. “No tax dollars (property or motor vehicle) are used to fund these operations.”

County administration said it is in the beginning stages of the annual budget process, and that officials will meet with department heads and elected commissioners over the next few weeks to hammer out a balanced spending plan.

Eden said she understands that a lot remains to be determined, and that her budget could be adjusted up or down.

But she is also hopeful that her requests meet the needs of residents while ensuring every dollar is wisely spent.

“This budget is very lean,” Eden said.