Attendance was light Tuesday at two separate public hearings regarding a proposed tax hike for Bulloch County citizens, but those present were vocal about the pending increase.
Bulloch County Commissioners held the first hearing at noon, where less than 10 people other than county employees showed up to air concerns over the tax increase. The crowd wasn't much larger at the 6 p.m. hearing.
Commissioners propose an increase in the millage rate of 18.1 percent, or 1.9 mills. Commissioners voted June 30 to pass the 2016 budget of $36.58 million, which is an increase of $2.95 million over the 2015 budget.
An increase in demand for services, due to growth, mandates additional employees and equipment, mainly in the areas of public safety, commissioners have said.
Many citizens have been confused about the property tax increase and millage rate hike, but Commissioner Roy Thompson suggested a formula to more accurately calculate how much a person's property tax will go up.
"Take your property value x .4 tenths (accessed value) x .0018 (millage increase) and it equals your tax increase," he said.
Other factors, such as the Homestead Exemption, could further decrease the amount owed, he said. The increase in the millage rate does not mean a person's property tax will increase by 18.1 percent, he explained.
Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch told residents that the 18.1 millage rate increase is a "sort of mathematical distortion" when it comes to figuring one's taxes. Most residents will see a property tax increase between 6 and 13 percent, he said. Taxation depends on a person's jurisdiction and whether fire district taxes and others apply.
While the actual increase in taxes collected is estimated to be 18.1 percent, taxes on a home with a fair market value of $125,000 will be around $91 more, which is an increase of just over 7 percent, he said.
During the noon meeting, county resident Charles Chandler asked the commissioners to consider tax breaks for people on fixed incomes and to review other ways to increase revenues.
Nan Rushing echoed his concerns about taxing people on fixed incomes, as well as making property owners pay school taxes when they have not had children in the school system for years.
William Emley also spoke about school taxes, challenging commissioners to look into more tax breaks for the elderly and disabled.
In an answer to some speakers' demands that the county find others areas in which to cut spending to avoid a tax increase, Couch said, "We have tried to do more with less," and asked where citizens would agree to decrease services.
"Should we close half the recycling centers or do away with animal control?" he asked, adding that most citizens would not approve of further cuts to county services.
Before the 6 p.m. public hearing, Bulloch County Tax Commissioner James Deal told some in the group that there are state-governed tax exemptions for senior citizens, and they can apply for those breaks.
During the 6 p.m. hearing, Jimmy Deloach questioned the fairness of taxing property owners and not those residents who do not own property, yet utilize county services.
"Everybody needs to pay their fair share," he said. "Somebody needs to find the political courage to find new ways" to increase revenue.
Then, quoting his grandmother, he said, "There are too many riding and not enough pulling."
Others spoke about concerns, including Jimmy Hayes, who suggested finding ways to make university students pay for their impact on county services, such as law enforcement.
"There are 70,000 people in Bulloch County and 30,000 students," he said.
Commissioners took no action at either public hearing, and a third hearing is slated for Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 5:30 p.m. during the commissioners' regular meeting at the Bulloch County Annex on North Main Street.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.