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Informational meetings to be held on tax changes

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The explanation is not simple -- and that is long before you get to the swollen total at the end of the tax bill.

Things will be different this year, from the first millage rate increase for the Board of Education in eight years, to the lengthy list of government services.

Even after public notices and other outreach, officials are expecting confusion, at the very least, so they are planning three informational sessions to give people an opportunity to ask questions about the millage rate.

"I've fretted about this for months, knowing how confusing it's going to be," Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said. "The main thing is more chances for people to know what the bill will look like."

The situation arose last year, when county officials settled a lawsuit with the city governments over services. The new system will ensure that city residents do not pay county taxes for services they do not receive from the county (because they receive them from the city).

Dividing the county into service districts, unincorporated residents will pay a development and enforcement levy that will not be a burden on residents of any city. Residents of the unincorporated area and those who live in cities without their own police department will have to pay into a police service district, and nearly everyone, except for those who live in Loganville, which has its own fire department, will pay a tax for the fire district.

All residents will pay a general county levy -- which has been reduced from 11.78 mils in 2012 to 7.40 mils in 2013, since those services have been pulled out -- as well as recreation and bond taxes.

Rates will be officially set on July 16, but as a whole, taxpayers everywhere except for Loganville are likely to pay more in taxes, due to the school increase. Residents of the cities of Auburn, Braselton, Duluth, Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Norcross, Snellville and Suwanee will see their county total decline by an average of $65. Three-quarters of residents will see an average of $38 increase for the county portion, adding to the $76 increase for the school system.

At the end of last year, county leaders decided to move forward with a plan to increase the taxes, mostly so police services would not have to be cut even though fewer people were paying taxes for it, Nash said.

While officials will accept public comments at the listening sessions, as well as via the county website, the proposal isn't likely to change, since a judge signed off on the service districts.

"It is what it is, but at least we can try to explain it," Nash said.

With all held at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville, the meetings will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 2, and at 6:30 p.m. July 15.