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Bulloch commissioners deny millage rollback
Rate to remain unchanged
Bulloch County Seal W

The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday not to roll back millage rates after an increase last year.

According to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, adopted by the Georgia General Assembly in 1999, a county government is allowed the option to roll back millage or leave it unchanged, said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch.

After the annual digest is prepared, if property tax collections are estimated to be more than the year before because of increased assessment values, that option is available, he said.

That decision means taxpayers will shell out about $2.70 more a year following the 2015 millage rate increase, but it also means the county won’t lose about $98,000, he said.

Commissioners discussed the option to roll back the rate from 12.34 mills to 12.286 mills but voted against it, he said.

“This does not mean an increase in taxes,” Couch said.

If the rollback had been approved, the effect on taxpayers’ pockets would have been less than $3 each — but it would have required cutting the county budget somewhere, he said.

Most likely, one area that would have been affected is the county’s five-year plan to rebuild an exhausted reserve-fund balance, Couch said.

TABOR was created to “prevent backdoor tax increases” resulting from inflated assessment growth in the tax digest, as opposed to increases resulting from physical growth generated by the addition of new or improved properties, he said.

“Pursuant to state law, for Bulloch County to legally claim it isn’t raising taxes for 2016, it would have to reduce the current millage rate of 12.34 mills to a rollback rate of 12.286 mills,” Couch explained. “The requirement to notify taxpayers that the decision not to roll back the millage rate must be represented as a tax increase is a distortionary statement.”

State law requires the notice to state that the 12.34 millage rate will cost an additional $2.70 for a taxpayer whose home is worth $125,000 in 2016, depending on his or her use of a homestead exemption. If the millage rate remains the same, it will not impact individual homeowners, as long as their assessment values do not change.

“If a homeowner has done nothing to raise the value of their property since last year, they will see no increase in their tax bill,” he said.

Property owners may have received a notice of assessment from the Bulloch County Tax Assessor’s Office. The notices point out that “the millage rollback would save homeowners these amounts, rather than implying that they would pay more,” he said.

In 2015, the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners increased the millage rate from 10.44 mills to 12.34 mills in order to meet specific goals of a five-year financial plan to remediate the county’s declining financial condition and to provide additional resources that were needed immediately for law enforcement, judicial support and first-response emergency personnel, Couch said.

“If the financial plan is not negatively affected by outside events, it is possible that more substantial tax relief in the form of future rollbacks can be achieved when the county’s financial position is restored and if there are no critical service demands,” he said.

A millage rollback would compromise the current financial plan and service demands of the county, meaning a loss of revenue, particularly until fund reserves are restored, he said.

“Unlike private business, the success of the county’s financial model is not determined by profit and loss or returns on investment in the form of shareholder dividends,” Couch said. “Instead, it is governed by working within its means and by setting a reasonable rate of taxation to provide services to protect and enhance the health, safety and welfare of the entire community as expressed by its citizens and the by requirements dictated from higher levels of government.

“The county cannot further resort to using additional reserves to fund operations at the risks of lowering the county’s credit ratings and affecting cash flows by creating the need to borrow in anticipation of property tax receipt,” he said.

Bulloch County’s population is expected to continue growing, and service demands must be met at an appropriate level, he said.

“That is an ongoing challenge,” he said. “The costs for law enforcement, court and social services, infrastructure maintenance and solid waste management have risen disproportionately to the amount of property tax and other revenues generated.”

Increases in criminal activity, fires, traffic and other factors have increased demands on the county to adequately staff and equip additional personnel and to upgrade and maintain capital resources, he said.

“As they always have, the Board of Commissioners must meet the ongoing challenges for balancing competing and increasing demands for services into cost outputs and to properly measure and generate the inputs needed from taxes and other revenues,” he said. “In considering the county manager’s fiduciary recommendation not to roll back the millage rate, the … commissioners are being asked to weigh prudence in the form of financial responsibility versus popularity in the form of tax relief.”


Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.


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