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Posted: Monday, July 29th 2013 at 1:48pm

Habersham commissioners OK millage rate increase

By Rob Moore Editor
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CLARKESVILLE – The Habersham County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Monday morning to increase taxes to meet the 2013-2014 budget.

The 9.44-increase was to 10.785 mills – an increase of 0.93 mills.

The impact on a home with a fair market value of $150,000 is $53.94, Commission Chairman Chad Henderson said during the third reading of the proposed increase. For a $150,000 home without a homestead exemption, the increase is $55.80.

Had the commission not approved the tax increase, the millage would not have exceeded 9.855 mills.

The vote to increase taxes was not before hearing two final appeals from residents to hold the line.

“The increase, I really feel, can’t come at a worse time,” said Demorest resident Carmen Nichols, who owns two properties in the county.

“I’m just saying that when I take a look at millage rates in the surrounding counties – I went out to a government digest and I looked at the 2012 numbers – the only one surrounding us that’s higher is Stephens County,” Nichols said.

“And I think we all are aware of what Stephens County looks like, and I’m telling you at this point in time you’re setting yourselves up to become the next Stephens County,” she said.

Nichols told the commission she feels that corporations will move to contract positions, resulting in people moving wherever they want and working remotely.

“You’ve already lost two of the big banks here,” she said. “I know that they were switched around, but we know that that caused a chain reaction with contractors and everything else in the area.”

Nichols classified herself as in the “over 45” age bracket.

“It’s the wrong time,” Nichols said. “I’ve not seen the economy this bad in my lifetime.”

Resident Peggy Brownrigg suggested that the county look at ways to increase the tax base without considering a millage rate increase.

She also said Georgia should look at taxing residents rather than just property owners, and that property owners should have more say than renters.

“Give me an opportunity to limit the services, if that’s necessary, if it’s going to impact my taxes,” she said. “Don’t let the person vote to limit the services or increase the services when their pocketbook is not going to be impacted. We’re looking for fair and reasonable. It costs a lot to run a county, and I don’t know where I want it cut and I don’t want it cut, but I want the burden of the county shared by everyone, and I want to have policies in place that will be fair and reasonable.”

Commissioner Sonny James shared his thoughts on the position commissioners found themselves in following town hall meetings.

“We have had two town hall meetings,” James said. “We have people that say, ‘No, I don’t want you to cut this service. You can cut this one but not this one.’ Then you have others say, ‘No, I don’t want this service cut.’”

James said commissioners struggled to find ways to make cuts, including reducing hours at facilities like the county swimming pools and libraries, and increasing fees to use the pools.

“I felt like there was a legitimate way of doing something without raising taxes – a lot of people of this commission did,” James said. “One is to limit the number of hours of the organizations. The other is to increase fees for the people that do use them. We have increased fees. They are in place now.”

The proposal to reduce hours was met with large-scale public resistance.

“Because of the outcry from the public, we could not limit some of the hours we thought we could,” James said. “This commission has done everything humanly possible to eliminate any fat in this county. We have done this for the last four years that I know of.”

Commissioner Ed Nichols made the motion to increase taxes. His motion was seconded by Commissioner Natalie Crawford.

Commissioner Nichols explained his rationale for the decision.

“We heard from hundreds of people,” he said. “I had six or eight say don’t raise my taxes. I had hundreds say don’t cut services.”

Commissioner Andrea Harper told those gathered she would be supporting Nichols’ motion, citing expenses beyond the county’s control, such as fuel costs, gravel required to maintain county roads, and other costs required for day-to-day operations.

Nichols, Crawford and Harper voted in favor of the motion, with James and Henderson voting against.
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