Last year, Hall County slapped owners’ crippled Lake Lanier properties with astronomical reassessments of their homes despite a 36-plus month supply of lake homes for sale, eight years of “pingpong” water levels and an Armageddon of a national economic recession.
But in the “eyes” of the Hall tax assessor and hired gun, an out-of-county consultant, lake property had been “immune” to this devastating seismic shift. Lake Lanier property was the equivalent of the mother lode of an ever-increasing property value. But hey, who would listen to those rich people on Lanier complain anyway?
Now the brilliant minds of our tax office have hit the commercial industrial office engine of Hall’s economy with the 2015 assessment. The increase range from 20 percent to 1,200 percent. Really? What cave have they been hiding in? What planet did they vacation during these past seven years of stagnant economy?
How can a property without improvement, standing empty with no tenants, increase year over year 48 percent? This is equivalent to a bad Three Stooges movie.
Our good commissioners appointed a tax assessors board that hires an assessor, yet it has no responsibilities for taxes? The assessor outsources the valuation to a consultant who measures and studies Google maps, never walking into the rusting hulls of empty buildings or seeing the deep, unbuildable gullies in vacant lots before coming up with the high values. Hall County is not Fifth Avenue; our shoreline is not the Riviera.
Once this opinion of value is mailed out, there is finger-pointing and the universal cry, “It is not our fault, it is his ... theirs ...” Or perhaps it’s the windfall of money they are salivating over.
After lake assessments soared, only the county rolled the millage back; other municipalities and school systems essentially stood still. More money fueling more government.
Good businesses don’t mind paying fair and equitable taxes for the services provided, but we did not see services increase nor refunds given. If they get the money, it’s clear they are going to spend it: City, county, city schools and county schools could see a waterfall of fresh cash, especially the Gainesville with its concentration of business, if the assessments stand.
If the digest increases 25 percent, roll the millage rate back 25 percent. Or it is just lining government pockets on the backsides of businesses? The unintended consequence is that Hall County has a growing reputation for being anti-business, glutinous, tax hungry, insensitive to economic conditions and ignorant of the reality of the times.
Recently, we had discussions with a major Atlanta employer who “labeled” those government folks “crazy” and said Hall would be the last place he would expand his business. Why? Last year his lake house was assessed 45 percent more and his 10-year-old boat actually increased in value.
The problem is our officials don’t know who lives in houses on Lake Lanier. It is the businesses who control jobs, capital and investment. The unintended consequences of a commercial tax could have irreversible effects on Hall County’s employment, prosperity and any hope for a clear recovery.
Please forgive them; they do not know what they do.
Frank K. Norton Jr.
The Norton Agency, CEO Chairman, Gainesville