Opinion

September 15, 2013

Whitfield tax districts coming

Many Whitfield County residents will get an unwelcome surprise later this year when they get their property tax bills.

The Whitfield County Board of Commissioners has created three new tax districts to pay for the fire department, solid waste costs and its share of services jointly funded with the city of Dalton. The districts will cover the entire county except the city of Dalton, and everyone owning property in those districts will pay three extra taxes in addition to the taxes they pay for county general government and for the school system.

Commissioners are scheduled to set their tax rates on Sept. 26, but board Chairman Mike Babb said they are currently looking at either a 1.5 mill or 2 mill total tax for the three districts. The county government’s current tax rate, which doesn’t include the school system, is 6.061 mills. So those who own property outside Dalton are looking at a possible increase of almost a third in their county tax rate.

The only good news for taxpayers is that commissioners currently expect to hold their general tax rate steady.

Commissioners agreed to set up these special tax rates last year during Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) negotiations with Dalton City Council. Council members argued that by funding the county fire department and joint services out of general revenue, commissioners were, in effect, forcing city taxpayers to subsidize services they got little use from and pay twice for joint services.

And the council seemed to have state law on its side. Two years ago, a state Superior Court judge found in favor of 15 cities that sued Gwinnett County, ruling the city’s residents don’t have to pay taxes to fund services that primarily benefit residents of unincorporated Gwinnett. Gwinnett officials agreed to settle the lawsuit and create four special tax districts to fund services such as fire protection and police services outside those cities that provide those services.

Following that decision, Whitfield County commissioners also agreed to set up special tax districts.

Most county residents probably aren’t aware that their taxes are going up yet, though we suspect that by the time commissioners meet again that might change. We are sure that they will hear from residents, if not at their next meeting, then after tax bills go out this fall.

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