The sentiment was the same for the dozen people who spoke up at Thursday morning's public hearing before the Hall County Commission - don't raise our taxes.
Last week, the Commission announced in an email that it had tentatively adopted a millage rate for the Hall County General Fund that would boost the tax rate 26.34 percent.
County Finance Director Zachary Propes outlined the budget plan at the onset of the hearing, telling the commissioners and those in the audience that there were several reasons for the proposed increase in the tax rate, including cost of living raises for county employees, the hiring of additional jailors for the Hall County Jail and the hiring of a fifth Superior Court judge and the staffing of the judge's office.
"This proposal before us has been thoroughly vetted and carefully crafted...over a substantial period of time," Propes said.
Despite Propes' assertions that county commissioners had been good stewards of county resources in the past, avoiding tax hikes during the economic downturn, and were now restoring lost services with the FY 2018 budget, the taxpayers at the meeting weren't buying his arguments.
"When I look at what you're doing, I understand why you're doing it, but I think it's too fast, too much," said Greg Rutledge of Murrayville. "I think it's disingenuous to say 'well, we've kept taxes flat for this period of time.' Your own records indicate that the county thinks that [the value of] my land has increased 39 percent since last year and 57 percent in two years."
Robert Phipps from Flowery Branch agreed with the assertion that increased assessments should be enough to fund a larger budget.
"You already get an increase every year by raising assessments. I don't think assessments go down in this county," Phipps said. "So, a raise in the millage rate in addition is...like a double raise to the homeowners. I'm opposed to your raising the millage rate because the assessment rates have gone up for everybody, and I'm sure you've also had some growth besides that. You have to watch what you're spending."
Cutting expenses was another common theme among those who took to the microphone. Longtime local government watchdog Doug Aiken told commissioners he had done some research and found the proposed tax increase was the largest on record for the county.
"What happened? Something went awry in about a year or a year and a half," Aiken said. "We can do it with [a millage rate of] 5.716, the present rate, and accomplish what you want. If you'll go through the agencies and start screening them, you'll mine out that amount of money. Let me tell you another part of the problem - you need to learn to control expenses."
Following the hour-long hearing, Propes clarified the proposed tax rate increase, noting that many people don't understand they won't see an additional 26 percent added to their tax bill under the budget.
"They will see a 21 percent increase on the General Fund portion, but they will only see a four-and-a-half percent on the total tax bill," Propes said. "So, for a $200,000 piece of property, your tax bill on average would be $2,200 - $98 is the increase from 2016's tax bill to 2017's."
To see documents related to the FY 2018 budget, follow this link to the Hall County Government website.
Two additional public hearings are scheduled on the proposed budget and millage rate increase - the second meeting will be held Thursday, June 15 at 6 p.m., the third meeting and a vote will be held Thursday, June 22 at 6 p.m. All meetings will take place in the Commission Meeting Room of the Hall County Government Center on Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville.