Bulloch County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to increase the millage rate by 1.9 mills, or 18.1 percent. The vote followed a third public hearing in the matter; about a dozen residents spoke against the increase during two July 30 hearings, but no one stepped forward to speak during Tuesday’s hearing.
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.
Commissioners said the tax hike was necessary due to an increase in demand for services caused by population growth, which mandates additional employees and equipment, mainly in the areas of public safety.
The tax increase, the first in over eight years, confused some residents, but during one of the first public hearings, 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. 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 percent 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.
Bulloch County Commission Chairman Garrett Nevil appeared surprised that no one voiced opposition during the Aug. 4 public hearing, which took place at the beginning of the commissioner’s regular meeting.
“Wow,” he said after no one stood up to speak when offered the chance before the issue came to vote. After the vote was cast, he told those attending the meeting “We attempted to keep the taxes as low as possible and still keep our services.”
Commissioner Robert Rushing said “It was a very difficult decision to make on this millage rate increase. We have put a lot of effort into keeping the budget as low as we could.”
In other business, county commissioners voted unanimously to allow a Confederate memorial statue to remain on the Bulloch County Courthouse square. The vote followed a weeks-long debate between those who feel the statue is a reminder of racial division and slavery and should be removed; and those who claim the statue is a part of the county’s history and represents soldiers of all races who died in the Civil War.
Commissioners also heard from John Smith, a business owner who said traffic from a county-operated disc golf course surrounding his property is causing problems. Smith said golfers walk and drive across his property, use his water without permission, throw golf discs at his building and ask to use his restroom. He asked commissioners to consider fencing off his property to keep golfers away from his business, since he is concerned about safety issues. Commissioners agreed to review the concerns and discuss a solution.
Another citizen, Dr. Lisa Leege, addressed concerns about the county’s discontinuing curbside recyclables pick-up. The county dropped the service due to excessive cost and consumers not obeying the rules and abusing the recycling program by using the recycling containers for regular household refuse.
Leege suggested commissioners revisit the issue to try to find other solutions than removing the program.
The Bulloch County Commission meets bimonthly; at 5:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month and at 8:30 a.m. on the third Tuesday of the month, at the Bulloch County Annex on North Main Street.
Tuesday, Commissioner Anthony Simmons encouraged county residents in the standing-room only crowd to attend more county commission meetings, not just those with controversial issues.
“Come look and see what we are doing, not just if you have an issue,” he said.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.