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Taxes muscle to fore at meeting
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Taxes were not even on the initial agenda for the Liberty County Commission meeting Thursday, but that topic occupied much of the commissioners' time and attention.
The year's property tax assessment notices were recently mailed to property owners.
Glenda Roberts, chief appraiser, reported on taxes and answered questions for the commissioners. She said her office tried to make its operations user-friendly for taxpayers and cited an example.
She said the board of assessors had scheduled a Saturday opportunity to be available for citizens who may work during the week. Although it was advertised in advance, Roberts said only three taxpayers came in that day.
Roberts said assessors are accessible to taxpayers, and if they are not available immediately by phone or by visiting the office, an appointment can be arranged within a day or two.
Commissioner Pat Bowen asked what explanation he could give constituents who reported their tax assessments had gone up tremendously.
"These huge bills are hitting them like BAM, BAM, BAM," he said, striking the table with his fist.
Robertson said part of the problem lay in the vicinity of Lake George and Woodland Lakes where values had been set too low historically and had not been adjusted properly in the countywide re-evaluation performed by a private company.
Bowen's district includes those areas.
Bringing these properties up to fair market value resulted in large increases, Robertson said.
County Administrator Joey Brown pointed out that the state penalizes counties where values are set too far out of line. He said Liberty has been penalized in the past for this reason.
Robertson also explained the Kemp-DeLoach-Williams tax exemption that protects individuals' homes from large increases in evaluation. She said homeowners can apply for the KDW exemption at any time, but it must be filed by March 1 to apply to the current tax year.
Commissioner Connie Thrift then asked if taxpayers whose property was assessed at very low amounts could use KDW to retain those low rates.
When told that was possible, Thrift said, "No, no, no, no, no." She added, "People on the west end of Highway 196 should be taxed the same way as the people on the east end of Highway 196."
In other business, the commissioners approved a budget amendment to reflect the decision last month to borrow the purchase price of coastal property for a marina site.
The county has borrowed $1.54 million from The Heritage Bank at 3.675 percent interest. This short-term financing ends Dec. 31. Officials have not detailed how the financial will be continued after that.
The budget amendment, shown on initial paperwork as "use of fund balance," was approved in a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Marion Stevens voting no.
The report of County Engineer Trent Long led to a long discussion of the pavilion/park/trailhead to be built where U.S. Highway 17 crosses Riceboro Creek.
As different commissioners challenged the material of the pavilion, the composition of the picnic tables, the cost of the trash receptacles, the value of the in-kind contribution from the county and other details, Stevens, noting that the project was in his district, asked that it be tabled to allow Long time to provide more information for those who needed it.
In various locations and with various combinations of funding, Liberty County has been trying to get this park built for more than three years. 
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