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City of Statesboro to hold 3 hearings over tax increase from lack of rollback
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The city of Statesboro will hold two "property tax increase" hearings Tuesday, Sept. 8, the first at 9 a.m. and the second at 6 p.m., for citizen input on a 2.25% increase that results from City Council's intent not to roll the millage rate back to offset inflation in reassessed property values.

These hearings will be held in the council chambers at City Hall, 50 East Main St.

A third hearing is slated for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 15, at the start of the next regular City Council meeting, during which the council can act to set the final millage rate.

No increase in the millage rate has been proposed. The rate was 7.308 mills in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and is proposed at the same rate, 7.308 mills, for 2020.

But the value of taxable real estate in Statesboro, as determined by the Bulloch County Board of Tax Assessors from a review of sales, increased by about 2.25%. This is the inflation in the assessed value of existing properties, not including any growth in revenue from new construction. Under the state law known as the Georgia Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a local government must reduce its millage rate to offset inflation in values or announce a tax increase and hold three hearings.

On average, the lack of a rollback will result in the owner of $100,000 worth of property paying about $6.50 in additional tax.

"It's just the adjustment based on some increased property values," City Manager Charles Penny said in August. "It's more just a natural occurence. ... It's about $130,000 in revenue, which is good, because we had to use $1 million in fund balance to balance our budget."

In other words, with the fiscal year 2021 budget that opened July 1, the mayor and council agreed to spend up to $1 million out of the city's general fund reserve. This was done to maintain employee salaries and benefits with scheduled  increases and continue some special projects, but with a conditional hiring freeze and still a 7% increase in projected spending.

So the growth in property tax revenue partially alleviates the reduction in the reserve or the need for cuts in other areas.

The mayor and council would have had to roll the millage rate back to 7.147 mills to avoid the hearings, a reduction of 0.161 mills. A mill is one-thousandth the value of a home or other property as assessed for taxes, and Georgia assesses taxes on 40% of a property's appraised market value.

So the average increase in tax for the year, on a property that now has an assigned market value of $100,000, assessed at $40,000, would be $6.44. The city in its formal notice cited the example of a $125,000 property, with an increase of $8.05. These are averages based on the increase in the total digest. Because reassessment values vary with location, so may the increase resulting from lack of a rollback.

If the council adopted the rollback rate instead, the city would give up a projected gain of $137,607 in revenue. With a small amount of new construction also having occurred, the city's history of its tax digest and levy, published in a public notice this week, shows a total gain of $158,043 in property tax revenue, from a total of $5,333,905 last year to a projected $5,491,948 this year.

In July, the city also began collecting a previously publicized increase in its stormwater utility fee, paid by water and sewer subscribers and used to fund drainage projects and maintenance.

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