Statesboro city officials will hold a series of three property tax increase hearings, including two hearings Tuesday, as they propose to keep the same millage rate the city has maintained the past two years instead of adopting a rollback.
This year, property values rose in reviews by the Bulloch County Board of Tax Assessors within Statesboro, as well as countywide. Under a state law known as the Georgia Taxpayer Bill of Rights, local governments must either reduce their millage to compensate for inflation in property values or announce a tax increase and hold three public hearings where citizens may speak.
Tuesday’s hearings, Aug. 27, will be held at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall. The third required hearing is set for 9 a.m. Sept. 3, also the start time of the next regular City Council meeting.
“More revenue is coming in because the value of the digest has gone up,” Mayor Jonathan McCollar said after Tuesday’s council meeting. “In my opinion, I think it’s a good thing because it shows that we’re kind of stabilizing economically.
“But we’re not changing the actual millage rate,” he said. “We’re going to leave it the same and then use the additional funding to put into the organization to better serve the community members.”
Third year, same rate
Statesboro’s property tax rate has been 7.308 mills since 2017, when City Council and then-Mayor Jan Moore approved a 1-mill increase, mainly to fund raises for the Police Department in an effort to attract and retain officers. The previous rate had been 6.358 mills, and the total was adjusted slightly after the digest numbers were received, making the actual 2017 increase 0.95 mill.
This year, McCollar and the council would have had to roll the rate back to 7.041 mills to avoid announcing a tax increase. Instead, the “Notice of Property Tax Increase” appeared as a city advertisement in Tuesday’s Statesboro Herald, as the officials intend to keep the rate at 7.308 mills.
That evening, City Council voted unanimously to hold the hearings at the times noted above. During the meeting, McCollar referred to them only as hearings to set the millage rate.
$11 on $100K
A mill is one thousandth the value of property as assessed for taxes, and in Georgia most property is assessed at 40 percent of its market value. So a full mill would amount to $40 tax on a home with a market value of $100,000.
But the difference between the maintained rate of 7.308 mills and the 7.041 rollback rate is only 0.267 mill, and the absence of the 0.267 mill rollback amounts to a $10.68 tax increase on property with a market value of $100,000. Tuesday’s city ad used the example of a $125,000 property instead, and stated that the added tax on that property would be approximately $13.35.
The announcement also stated that maintaining the current millage “will require an increase in property taxes by 3.79 percent.” Both the examples and the percentage represent the average increase across Statesboro resulting from inflation in property values, and the actual increase from an individual property’s appraisal could be higher or lower.
A history of the city’s property tax levy included in Tuesday’s notice shows a 5.11 percent increase in net revenue, after a 5.4 percent increase last year. The city’s property tax revenue is shown to increase from a little less than $5.1 million in 2018 to a projected $5.35 million. These totals include increases from growth, such as new construction, which did not have to be considered for the rollback rate.
A fraction of revenue
Property taxes make up a relatively small part of the city’s revenue. The city’s fiscal year 2020 budget, approved by the council in May and in effect July 1, 2019, to June 30, shows appropriations totaling $62.37 million in all funds. But this includes overlapping transfers from one fund to another, as well as budgets for services such as water and sewer and natural gas, which are supported from usage fees.
The general fund budget for this year projects $16.3 million in spending, with taxes projected to supply about $10 million of that. Other city taxes include utility franchise fees, alcoholic beverage taxes and insurance premium taxes, so that regular property taxes make up only about half of the total.
Former City Manager Randy Wetmore, who retired from the job here May 31, had included keeping the 7.308-mill rate unchanged as one of the assumptions behind his budget proposal to the council.
However, he also noted that the city had rebuilt its general fund reserve from a mere $99,109 in 2009 to more than $5.2 million one year ago. At that point, the reserve totaled more than one-third of the past year’s general fund spending.
Both the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners and the Bulloch County Board of Education adopted rollback rates for their millage this year, avoiding the tax increase hearings. However, the county commissioners are adding a special millage for the county’s rural fire district, affecting property owners outside Statesboro’s fire service district.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.