One by one, Gwinnett residents got up in front of their county commissioners Monday and asked them not to do it.
Don’t raise the millage rate, which would mean an increase in property taxes, they said.
Some wanted explanations of what the extra money would be used. Others wanted to know how much money this year’s increase in property values alone would generate for the county.
The common theme, however, was that property owners in attendance at the meetings were not in support of a higher tax rate.
“From the outside, and my point of view, maybe you need to prioritize how things are being spent,” Grayson resident Maria Mangum said. “Maybe figure out if we’re spending too much on this, then maybe we can make it better.”
County commissioners are expected to vote on the proposed general fund millage rate of 7.4 mills at their 2 p.m. business meeting July 16. There will be one more public hearing before that vote.
That hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. July 15 at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, which is located at 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville.
During the two hearings held Monday, county staff said the increase in the millage rate was intended to help pay for maintaining infrastructure, personnel costs including pensions and employee compensation, the addition of a new Superior Court judge position as well as the courthouse expansion and increased services to residents.
If the 7.4-mill rate is adopted, county officials said at the hearing that the owner of a home which is valued at $258,100 and has both homestead and value offset exemptions would see the county government portion of their taxes — the Gwinnett County school system and the various cities have their own separate millage rates — increase by $12.92.
But commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said the commissioners aren’t in agreement yet on what to do about the millage rate.
“A decision has not been made about what the millage rate will be,” she told residents at the second of two hearings held Monday. “There’s some differences of opinions and I think people’s minds are open to listening to the comments that we’re hearing.”
That leaves open a range of possibilities including some type of increase in the rate, keeping it the same as last year’s rate — which would still constitute a tax increase since the tax digest has grown — or lowering it.
Nash herself would not commit to what she thought the county’s final general fund millage rate should be.
“This process needs to play out,” the chairwoman said. “We set the (proposed) millage rate at 7.4, which is an increase in the rate from the 2018 rate. That gives us flexibility without having to restart the process.
“We can go up to the 7.4 without having to restart the process and that gives us lots of flexibility in coming up with a rate that a majority of the people can agree on. We’d like to have as much agreement as we can, as much consensus as we can, but the bottom line is we’ll set the rate at what (at least) three members of the board are willing to vote in favor of.”
But in the meantime, the possibility of a millage rate increase has left at least some property owners upset with their county leaders.
Lilburn resident Lana Berry objected to increased spending on additional judges and law enforcement. She said the money would be better spent on programs aimed at helping youth and steering them away from the potential to live a life of crime.
“We don’t need any more police officers; we don’t need to do any of that,” Berry said. “We need to find programs that can help youths, and parents for that matter, who need help so that so we can reduce crime.
“I’m tired of taxes going to that kind of stuff.”
Things got heated during both hearings when Norcross resident Joe Newton approached the podium. Newton, who has been a critic of Nash particularly since the debate leading up to this year’s MARTA referendum, accused Nash of being a “crook” for not having an answer at hand about how much additional money the county expected to see come in just from the revaluation of properties this year.
“You’ve got an estimate of how much you’ll bring in — if you don’t have an estimate, then you don’t have any basis for raising the millage rate,” Newton said at the first hearing.
After the second hearing, Nash said calculating the figure is a complex web of determining which properties were reevaluated and which ones have value offset exemptions.
“But they are working on it because I already asked them after (the first hearing),” she said. “We hope to be able to wrestle it to the ground.”