FORSYTH COUNTY — Turnout was low Thursday for the first two of three public hearings on a proposed property tax hike for in Forsyth County.
No one spoke at the first hearing, which was held in the morning while the second, at night, drew three speakers before the county commission.
And in somewhat of a surprise for conservative Forsyth, two of the speakers supported the millage rate increase for the fiscal year 2016 budget.
“I attend the work sessions, I’ve listened to countless hours of discussions,” Kirk Wintersteen said. “Because of that I believe that the citizens, commissioners, managers, directors, fire chief, sheriff and many, many others are being careful with our money. I believe the citizens receive good value for their tax dollars and I speak in favor of the proposed millage rates.”
The change in millage rate comes after county voters approved a $200 million transportation bond last fall.
According to county figures, the proposed bond rate is 1.419 mills, an increase of 0.55 mills from 0.869 mills in the current year and reflects the debt service requirements for the transportation bond.
Voters approved that measure in November to fund a variety of transportation projects, including the widening of Ga. 400.
A mill, the rate used to calculate taxes, is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. Assessed value is 40 percent of actual market value.
According to the county, the proposed increase would raise taxes on a home assessed at $250,000 (with a homestead exemption) by about $50.60.
Changes in an individual tax bill will depend upon the change in assessed valuation for that property.
The proposed county millage rates for maintenance and operations and fire will remain unchanged at 4.812 mills and 1.975 mills, respectively.
One speaker Thursday night said he voted for the bond program, but wondered whether the county could instead have raised sales or gas taxes to pay for road improvements.
According to Commission Chairman Pete Amos, the county looked into those options.
“The transportation bond was the only way we could get money quickly and get going on these roads,” Amos said. “We hope to in the future maybe tie it into a gas tax, but we can’t do that until 2016 … or maybe onto our next [1-cent sales tax program.]”
Carolyn Fisher, first vice chair of the Forsyth County Republican Party, suggested that the commissioners, all of whom are Republicans, should cut costs instead of raise taxes.
“All Republicans hold true to certain principles, and two of these are the steadfast belief in low taxes and in small government,” Fisher said. “The Forsyth County Republican Party asks that you, as Republicans, stay true to these values and your conservative beliefs.
“We urge you not to increase the tax burden on Forsyth County property owners.”
Another opponent of the increase said that the language on the ballot for the bond should have been clearer that a tax increase would result.
Prior to both meetings, Chief Financial Officer Dave Gruen gave a presentation explaining the millage rate increases. It can be found online at http://www.forsythco.com/info_details.asp?articleid=3661.
The final public hearing is set for 5 p.m. July 16 in Suite 220 of the Forsyth County Administration Building, 110 E. Main St. in downtown Cumming. Commissioners will then consider adopting the rate at 7 that same night.
The county government’s hearings are separate from three the Forsyth County Board of Education is holding this month on its proposed tax rate of 17.3 mills.
Officials have said that rate, an increase of 1.812 mills from last year, will result in a tax increase of about $177 for a home with a fair market value of $250,000.