Judge gives go-ahead to set temporary rate

LAWRENCEVILLE - An order to allow the collection of Gwinnett County property taxes has been signed.

While the order has not yet been filed in court, officials said Judge Timothy Hamil gave the go-ahead for temporary tax collection, a judicial move that became necessary because of the county government's inability to set a millage rate.

Hamil said temporary tax bills can be sent based on a calculation of last year's millage rate of 10.97 with the 2009 tax digest.

While commissioners must later set a permanent rate, they said last year's rate will mean about $6.2 million less in tax revenues because of a dip in property values.

The board met Wednesday to consider a recommended rate for the judge, but instead voted down a recommendation of 11.18 mills, which would have produced about the same amount of tax revenue as last year.

"We're very appreciative of the judge issuing an order so quickly and allowing us to collect taxes," Assistant County Administrator Lisa Johnsa said.

The order will also allow the collection of school taxes, as school system officials worried they could not meet an $80 million a month payroll if collections did not begin by October.

"It's already cost the school system a great deal of money, but if he did not rule as he did, it would have cost us a great deal more," school board Chairman Dan Seckinger said. "It's unbelievable that it came to this, but Judge Hamil made the right decision, and I'm glad he did."

Officials plan to have tax bills - which are normally issued on July 15 - out within 25 days with the first payment due Oct. 15 and the final payment due Nov. 15.

When the permanent millage rate, currently delayed by a lawsuit with local cities over services, is set, officials can issue a refund or a second set of bills to property owners.