Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Commission to Hold Public Hearings on Proposed Tax Increase

The Gwinnett County Commission today announced plans to conduct a series of public hearings on a proposed increase in the county’s property taxes.

The public hearings will be held at 4:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. on May 26 and at 10:30 a.m. on June 2 in the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center (GJAC) at 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville. Citizens are also encouraged to attend public information forums that will be conducted one hour before each hearing. The commission is expected to act on the proposal following the final public hearing on June 2.

The commission’s consideration of the tax increase follows its adoption earlier this year of a $1.7 billion 2009 budget that reflected needed increased staffing in the county’s police, fire and emergency services departments, efficiency in government service and long-term financial stability. Over the past 12 years, the Board of Commissioners has rolled back property taxes by a total of 3.98 mills. The rollback was possible in part because the county’s rapid growth generated sufficient tax revenues to cover the cost of expanding service needs. In recent years, however, the county’s growth rate has begun to slow.

“We are undergoing a natural and unavoidable transition from high growth to maturity, and that change holds implications both for the services we provide and the way we pay for them,” said County Administrator Jock Connell. “We have been projecting for several years that 2009 would be the year when service demands would exceed revenues produced by natural growth in our tax digest. I should add that the current economic situation compounds our challenges, but it is not a primary cause.”

The County’s situation is complicated by the fact that the Service Delivery Strategy negotiations with Gwinnett County’s 15 municipalities will require the county to dramatically alter its millage rate and accounting structures. The new rate structure will add four new service districts in order to segregate funding for municipal and unincorporated EMS, fire and police services. The 2009 tax structure will decrease the general fund levy, but an increase in the recreation levy, coupled with the new funds, will result in a 2.87 – 3.31 mill increase depending on where in the county a property is located.

“We recognize that the increase is significant and that it comes at a difficult time economically,” said Connell. “But we would also point out that even with this proposed increase, the owner of an average $200,000 home in Gwinnett County would be paying about $2.50 a day for the full array of county government services, including police, fire and EMS protection; transportation; parks and recreation; libraries; the sheriff’s department and county courts; and health and human services.”

The millage increase to be decided on June 2 applies only to the county government’s portion of the property tax bill, which is slightly less than one-third of the total bill. The remaining two-thirds of the bill that funds Gwinnett County Public Schools will be unaffected by the proposed increase.

At each of the public hearings, Gwinnett County citizens will be given an opportunity to express their views about the proposed tax increase.
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