Gwinnett residents protest proposed tax rate increase

A partisan crowd of close to 200 residents poured into the Gwinnett County courthouse Tuesday to give officials an earful about a proposed tax rate increase.

"If this passes," warned Nancy Williams of Lawrenceville, "I will head up a coalition to ensure none of you hold office again."

At issue is a 25 percent property tax rate increase announced last week to fund the county's $1.7 billion 2009 budget. That rate would be slightly higher among city residents because the county does not receive many licensing revenues it receives from unincorporated areas.

County commissioners held two public hearings Tuesday evening to field comments. A third public hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. next Tuesday at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville.

At Tuesday's hearings, the crowds grew so large, additional seats had to be set up, and many people had to stand.

Curtis McGill of Snellville told the forum that his assisted living business in Lawrenceville has suffered through the economic downturn. A property tax increase, he said, would be the death knell for many other businesses that are just hanging on.

Peter Henrickson of unincorporated Duluth accused the commission of deceiving residents.

The county's mill levy — its assessment against property — has declined by about 40 percent since 1996. And, the county points out, those reductions account for $839 million in revenue kept in property owners' pockets.

But Henrickson said increases in population and valuations more than made up for that loss, and county government has continued to grow. "I thought you were Republicans," he said.