CLARKESVILLE — Habersham County officials have begun the process of hearing from residents about the proposed tax increase they say is necessary in order to maintain needed services.
“We had our first reading tonight of our budget, which included capital expenditures is a little over $27 million,” said Habersham County Commission Chairman Victor Anderson. “Our operating budget is just over $20 million for this upcoming fiscal year.”
After receiving the tax assessment for 2017, county officials recommended that the millage rate for 2017 be set at 11.176.
Comparatively, the 2016 millage rate was 10.626 (net tax decrease of $45,941), the 2015 millage rate was 10.693 (net tax decrease of $266,379), and the 2014 millage rate was 10.785 (net tax decrease of $164,868). The net tax decreases over the previous three years was due to commissioners accepting the rollback millage.
That can’t happen for 2017 if the county is to keep pace with needed services, officials said.
“As we were preparing to budget, we realized real quickly that due to very limited property valuation growth, a lot of exemptions in the county, and an ever-reducing reimbursement from the state for vehicle tax and ad valorem taxes related to the TAVT, that we were coming up extremely short,” Anderson said. “We cut as much as we could, or felt that we could, without getting into vital services being provided, and ultimately determined that the only way to continue with the services that we felt were vital would be to have a millage rate increase.”
At the first hearing, several county residents spoke against the millage rate increase, including Jimmy Tench, Carl Blackburn and Dortch Williams.
Williams said a tax increase will create a hardship, making it difficult for property owners to keep their land.
Blackburn clarified that the new hospital services special district levy is a new tax.
“That millage rate increase, we went around and around and basically reduced it to 0.55 mills,” Anderson said. “In addition to that, we’ve broken our EMS expenses out as a separate expense item under hospital services. The combined millage rate increase is about 6.3 percent.”
In Fiscal Year 2018, the operations of the county ambulance service will be broken out for the first time. The Special Revenue Fund will be funded by a special district levy of 0.39 mills for hospital services.
A second public hearing on the millage rate will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at the Habersham County Administration Building (old courthouse), 555 Monroe St. Clarkesville.
The final public hearings and vote on the proposed FY 17-18 budget and the millage rate will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, June 26, at the Habersham County Administration Building.