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Nash: Leaving tax rate unchanged 'prudent'

Charlotte Nash

Charlotte Nash

LAWRENCEVILLE — Though many Gwinnett County property owners will end up paying more in taxes this year, Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash believes leaving the millage rate unchanged is the right decision.

“As an individual who has spent as much time as I have dealing with the finances of this county, I believe that this is the prudent thing for us to do,” she said.

On Tuesday, commissioners voted 4-1 to leave the total county millage rate for properties in unincorporated Gwinnett at 13.75 mills, the same rate as last year.

Saying county officials have worked through the economic downturn “as well as we possibly could,” Nash emphasized the need for additional funding.

“There are some things that we’ve got to address and we can’t keep putting them off,” she said.

District 3 Commissioner Tommy Hunter, who had previously expressed reservations about the millage rate proposal, chose not to elaborate after casting the lone dissenting vote.

“I’m going to let my vote speak for itself,” he said.

The school tax rate of 21.85 mills, which was adopted by the Gwinnett County Board of Education on June 26, also remains unchanged from 2013. What has changed for most taxpayers, however, is the assessed value of residential properties.

Earlier this year, the Gwinnett County Tax Assessor’s Office announced the majority of residential property assessments reflected an increase in county appraised value compared to 2013. Approximately 1,500 commercial properties also appraised higher. The overall increase in the tax digest — the combined total value of all property in the county — is the first in five years following a nearly 20 percent decline between 2009 and 2013.

While taxpayers whose property values remained unchanged from last year will pay the same in 2014, taxpayers who have seen their property rise in value will face higher tax bills — a fact not lost on Nash.

“There have been lots of changes in the budget — significant cutbacks in staffing, in the dollars we’re putting into many areas,” she explained, while cautioning that county leaders could not take the source of those dollars for granted. “We have to make sure we spend every penny the best way we can to try to make Gwinnett County as good a community as we possible can, not just now but five, 10 years in the future.”

Nash also expressed her appreciation for the input received from members of the public and said the feedback included some good suggestions.

“I think there are some things we can continue to do to try to refine how we use our dollars here,” she said.

The notices of assessment mailed in April included an estimated tax amount based on last year’s millage rate. Property owners can expect to receive a bill for 2014 that is approximately the same as that estimate.

Notices of annual assessments, including the estimated taxes, may be viewed online at gwinnettcounty.com.

Safe Carry Act prompts park ordinance change

House Bill 60, the Safe Carry Protection Act, which passed earlier this year has forced commissioners to make changes to the Code of Ordinances of Gwinnett County pertaining to the possession of weapons in parks.

The new state law, which went into effect on July 1, prohibits local governments from regulating “the possession, ownership, transport, carrying, transfer, sale, purchase, licensing or registration of weapons other than firearms or knives.” As a result, Section 78-32, which prohibited the possession of non-firearm and non-knife weapons in parks and recreation facilities, is now preempted by state law.

Though local governments are limited in their ability to prevent weapons from being carried in parks, state law does preserve their authority to regulate the discharge of weapons. The new ordinance section states: “It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge any weapon or similar device in a park or recreation facility.”

According to Chairwoman Nash, the change brings county ordinance into compliance with state law.