Our view: Look again before hiking property tax

If you attended last Monday's public hearing on Gwinnett County's 2009 budget, you never heard the words "tax hike."

But that's exactly what's called for in the budget that county commissioners will vote on Tuesday.

During the hearing, county officials referred to the need to make up the deficit between projected revenues and expenses. They discussed "the need for additional revenue." They described "budget gaps."

But not once was the t-word uttered.

After the hearing, when pressed by media for an explanation of all this "additional revenue," officials admitted that a property tax hike is indeed part of the formula. County Administrator Jock Connell was pretty clear: "I don't see much way to find that revenue without some adjustment to the millage rate."

How much that tax will be and how much it will raise property taxes remains to be seen. The point is that despite the tough economy, property owners will be forking over more cash to the county coffers.

We are in difficult times. Everyone's tightening their belts well past being comfortable. Many businesses - big and small - struggle to survive and are making painful decisions.

Here's the difference, though, between private sector and government: When merchants increase revenue by raising the price of their products, they run the risk of customers saying, "Thanks, but no thanks." When governments increase revenue by raising taxes, the public has to pay the increase.

On Tuesday, the budget comes before our five commissioners for approval. Commissioners will not be voting on a tax increase, but by approving the budget as it stands, a vote to raise the millage rate used to calculate taxes will be necessary later.

Tuesday's vote comes on the heels of a Monday meeting at which the Water and Sewerage Authority will consider a hike in water and sewer bills. Customers would see water bills go up a mere 20 cents a month, but a base rate for sewer service of $5 would also be added. (There is some good news in that the need for these increases was driven, in part, by Gwinnett's conservation efforts.)

Authority members' recommendation on the $62 per year hike also will come before the commissioners Tuesday.

Any increased tax, whether it be on water, sewer or property, is a tough pill to take these days. Gwinnett County is averaging 1,400 home foreclosures a month. Any new household expense makes it more difficult for those who've lost their job or are struggling to make the monthly house payment.

Before hiking taxes, before being part of the problem that's plaguing citizens, commissioners need to search every nook and cranny for more ways to cut expenses.

Some argue there's never a good time for a tax increase. But when so many have felt the blow of a faltering economy, the timing is especially lousy.

The unsigned editorials reflect the opinion of the Gwinnett Daily Post. Columns, letters to the editor and cartoons reflect the opinions of the individuals who penned them. It is the policy of the Gwinnett Daily Post to correct all errors of fact. Corrections usually run on Page 4A.