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Statesboro announces tax increase to keep same millage
City of Statesboro seal

With the effect on its budget now smaller than previously estimated, the city of Statesboro has slated three "property tax increase" hearings after several City Council members indicated support for keeping the millage rate unchanged.

The hearings are required under the state law known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights because by keeping the millage the same, the city will get the benefit of some inflationary growth in its tax digest. To avoid the formal hearings, the city would have to roll back its property tax rate from the current 6.358 mills to 6.258 mills, according to a notice issued by the city. The lack of a rollback is considered a 1.6 percent tax increase.

As was also the case for Bulloch County taxpayers, most Statesboro property owners have not seen an increase in their property values and so will not pay more tax. Owners of fewer than 2 percent of parcels countywide, mainly income-producing properties such as business buildings and rentals, will pay significantly more. This is because the Board of Tax Assessors Office focused on this kind of property with reassessments that took the buildings' profitability into account.

Two weeks ago, interim City Manager Robert Cheshire had estimated that avoiding tax increase hearings would require a 2.5 percent rollback, which would have meant giving up about $100,000 in potential revenue.

But when City Council held a preliminary millage hearing Tuesday, Cheshire said he had more up-to-date figures. Citing the smaller rollback to avoid a 1.6 percent increase, he said the effect on city revenue would be about $64,000.

He also explained that the city's budgeted revenues had included an estimate of real growth, such as new construction, and not the inflationary numbers, but that the budget does not leave much room for variation.

"So if we roll it back, we're in essence saying that if everything comes in just like we project, it'll balance. If it comes in a little less, then we're going to be short," Cheshire said. "Being that we don't have much fund balance and we're not anywhere near where we need to be and to give us a little bit of play, I would be of the opinion that we stay at the 6.358."

No votes were taken during the 6:30 p.m. City Council preliminary hearing, which followed and was separate from Tuesday's 5:15 regular meeting.

Councilman Will Britt said he would like the council to consider keeping the millage the same, but wants to show a specific use, this year, for the gain in revenue.
Cheshire suggested waiting until halfway through the fiscal year and then setting the money aside for a purpose.

"Why not put it in the bank?" asked Councilman Phil Boyum, suggesting that rebuilding the general-fund balance could be a specific use.

But Britt said he wants to see something more tangible.

"It would take a whole lot of people sitting down telling me why a city that has enterprise funds as strong as we do needs a fund balance at the rate that is recommended by the (Georgia Municipal Association)," Britt said.

The enterprise funds include the water-sewer and natural gas funds, which have proportionally larger balances than the mainly tax-supported general fund. As adopted by the council this spring, the fiscal 2015 budget projected the general fund breaking even with only $229 to spare.

Boyum reported receiving an email from Councilman John Riggs, who was absent, relaying that he opposed a rollback.

The first tax increase hearing is scheduled for noon Thursday, Aug. 28, followed by a second hearing at 6 p.m. that day. The final hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 29, and the council is slated to set the millage Sept. 16.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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