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Opinion –  Help expand the tax base — quickly
Marcus Toole mug inverted
Marcus Toole

I recently sat in on some Bulloch County tax hearings and watched commissioners get an earful from people complaining about the upcoming property tax hikes. I get it. I’m being hit with huge Bulloch County and City of Statesboro tax hikes on my home. Relative to my Habitat for Humanity salary this one will hurt. But at present there really isn’t much local jurisdictions can do about rising property taxes in the short term that won’t make the long-term tax situation worse. 

Given the amount of growth coming to Bulloch County, the only long-term solution to rising property taxes is for developers to flood the market with new housing. Before I explain, please understand that no one asked me what I thought about inviting in all the new factories or giving them huge tax abatements. However, the incoming industrial growth and its impacts are a done deal. 

I’ve heard many horror stories of people in danger of being driven out of their homes by rising property taxes. Unfortunately, the new economic development will gentrify Bulloch County to one extent or another.  Some areas will be hit harder and faster than others. I live near Savannah Avenue in Statesboro. A high poverty neighborhood near my home is slated to be replaced by townhouses. True homelessness is a likely outcome for some of those residents. I warned of this in opinion editorials a year ago, and it’s already starting, but it will intensify greatly. 

There are only two things that will address what the industrial development will do to the cost of housing and property taxes. 1) Bulloch County, Statesboro and other municipalities must expand their property tax base quickly. That means allowing builders to build higher density new housing thereby spreading the tax burden on more homeowners. 2) They must provide enough housing supply to prevent housing demand from artificially raising housing prices and tax values. 

Rising land values are already having dire consequences for people in one of the highest poverty neighborhoods in Statesboro. But unless developers are allowed to develop higher density housing along the paved road corridors between Statesboro, Brooklet and Stilson the whole region will become radically gentrified as people currently living there are pushed out by property taxes. Unless you are wealthy, Ag-5 zoning along paved roads in such high-growth conditions is not in your friend. Ag-5 won’t stop the area along Highway 80 between Statesboro, Brooklet and Stilson from developing. It just means fewer new neighbors will fill the area with bigger, more expensive houses which will raise everybody else’s property taxes even higher. If you are a median income person living along one of these road corridors, it’s in your financial best interest for the county to allow the highest density housing that the area infrastructure can support. 

While I support Bulloch County’s efforts to establish a water and sewer district in extreme SE Bulloch County, it needs to do something immediately to prevent the complete gentrification of Brooklet. The county should go ahead with helping Brooklet and Statesboro connect their water and sewer systems so that the area can support much higher density housing ASAP. Yes, that will be a financially painful investment for taxpayers. But this appears to me to be the only way to build the tax base and meet enough of the short-term housing demand fast enough to prevent property taxes from pushing lower and middle-income people out of Brooklet. 

If the county dawdles on this, it may mean relatively lower taxes for a couple of years. But areas along Highway 80 will fill up with huge houses built on big lots. Medium income people won’t be able to sustain what that will do to their property taxes long term.

Marcus Toole is the Community Outreach Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County.

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