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Residents sound off on taxes
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Forsyth County News
What's next

The third, and final, hearing on the proposed tax increase is set for 5 p.m. Thursday in the county administration building.
Compared to the first millage rate hearing earlier in the day, Forsyth County commissioners received more of a range in responses Thursday night.

Eleven speakers offered opposition, support or suggestions concerning the proposed property tax increase in 2011.

The commission has advertised a 1.48 mill increase in the 2011 millage rate, which officials say would cover the full $13.3 million shortfall in the projected $93.6 million budget.

The first hearing saw all but one resident in strong opposition to any tax hike. Most who spoke Thursday night felt the same way.

Jeanne Latiolais said she's reeled in expenses in her business and home to live within her budget.

"We expect you to do the same," she said.

Dan Gribler, who like Latiolais is a member of the Forsyth County Tea Party, suggested the county redistribute its funds primarily to operating costs.

His review of the budget led him to believe money isn't being used wisely.

"I don't know what's happened this year that we need all these increases," he said. "I think the problem is spending, spending, spending."

Dan Wolf pointed to the political party affiliation of all five county commissioners.

"As good Republicans, we don't look to raise taxes to solve budget problems," he said.

He also felt that county employees hadn't taken hits nearly as hard as those in the private sector.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt spoke last, drawing applause with his closing statement to the commission: "Tighten your belt and live within the revenue that you collect."

Gravitt said the county has been "scaring the taxpayers" by publicizing a large deficit based on "inflated" requests from departments.

The 2011 budget won't be approved until the end of the year, but commissioners must set the tax rate by July 31.

During several budget work sessions this year, the commission has explored areas to save money.

Commissioners have said they don't anticipate approving the requested budget or the tax increase advertised.

Most recently, they estimated a 1.15 to 1.25 millage rate increase in 2011.

A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. Assessed value is 40 percent of actual market value.

The monthly increase to a property owner with a $300,000 home would be about $14.80, according to county figures, for a total of $254.40 per month for both school and county government levied taxes. The yearly cost would be an increase of $177.60.

A $200,000 home would have a yearly cost increase of about $118.40.

Earlier Thursday, the Forsyth County Board of Education voted not to raise the school system's millage rate for 2011, keeping it at 15.395 mills.

While most attendees at the commission hearing appeared to oppose any tax hike, two residents spoke in favor of the measure, if deemed necessary, because they enjoy county services.

Chris Pike referred to the Boston Tea Party. While hating taxes has been the American way "ever since we dumped tea in the harbor," Pike said he moved to the county for the amenities and services and he's willing to pay for them.

"If you know there are services that need to be met by this county, it is your responsibility to make sure the revenue's there to meet them," he said. "If that means raising your taxes, then I would challenge you to make that tough decision."

Claudia Castro said she feels fortunate not to have a "heavy tax burden," but she loves this county and is willing to help out in tough times.

"This is the time to put our money where our mouths are," she said. "I'll write you my check tomorrow."

Resident and county employee Dawn Childress, circuit court administrator, reminded the commission that the county has cut expenses by 25 percent and endured several rounds of layoffs in recent years.

"I hate paying taxes as much as the next person, but I also know once my county government has cut as much as they can -- and we entrust you to do that -- it's my civic duty to do so," she said. "Especially when the cost [of raising taxes] is less than a six pack of beer or a pack of cigarettes a week to ensure my family's welfare and safety."

Some residents offered advice in minimizing any necessary tax increase.

Linda Ebert encouraged the county to "get creative" in earning revenue before cutting services or raising taxes.

Ken Hewitt suggested implementing a gas tax, cutting retiree benefits and charging fees to use local parks.

The commission closed the hearing without comment.

The final millage hearing is Thursday, with commissioners expected to adopt the rate afterward.