The city of Statesboro will hold two property tax increase hearings Thursday, at noon and 6 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall.
These, and a third public hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 5, are required because city officials propose an increase of up to 1 mill in the tax rate. A one-mill increase would add $40 to the annual tax on a home with an appraised fair market value of $100,000. A half-mill increase would add $20 on the same home.
City Council members and Mayor Jan Moore informally agreed at their last meeting to advertise an increase of up to 1 mill. Moore had suggested a half-mill increase to fund a raise in the starting pay for Statesboro Police Department officers.
“If somebody had told me that I would be sitting here talking about a millage increase in an election year, I would have told them they were crazy, that that’s not typically what you do,” Moore said during the Aug. 15 meeting.
“But I also feel like when you know that your community needs to keep up and we have got to get people in here and we have got to be competitive or we jeopardize the safety of our citizens, then, you know, so be it,” she said. “I feel that strongly that we need to do that.”
The Police Department remains 10 officers short of full staffing, which would be 74 sworn officers. After Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia General Assembly raised pay for state law enforcement officers, including Georgia State Patrol troopers, by 6 percent in 2016 and 20 percent more this year, local police agencies report increased competition for officers.
Moore suggested linking the half-mill increase to the police raise and restricting it to that purpose. But Councilman Sam Lee Jones said he would favor a 1 mill increase, making some money available for infrastructure needs and community recreation projects, such as a public pool.
Moore proposed advertising a tax increase of up to 1 mill but with the understanding that the amount could be reduced after receiving input from residents during the hearings. Without voting on anything except the meeting times, council members said they agreed to this approach.
Council can vote to set the final millage only after the three public hearings, but could do so during its Sept. 5 regular meeting, immediately after the last hearing.
Raises for almost all city employees during the last two fiscal years lifted Statesboro’s starting salary for certified police officers from $31,236 in to $32,955.
As reported last week, this salary was near the middle for police agencies in area towns Statesboro’s size and larger in a sampling by the city’s human resources director. But Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead said competitive pressure is increasing and that with the continuing shortage of officers, Statesboro “just can’t get left behind.”
The 2017 millage rate shown in the city’s “notice of property tax increase” ads is 7.308, up from 6.358, which has been the rate for a decade.
That would be an increase of 0.95 of a mill, on top of any increase in property valuations that has already occurred. If approved at the advertised maximum, the rate hike would amount to a $38 more annual tax on a home with a 2017 value, as determined by the Board of Assessors, of $100,000.
A mill is one-thousand of the value of property. But in Georgia, homes and most other property are assessed for taxes at 40 percent of market value, giving a $100,000 home a $40,000 assessed value, which is then multiplied by the millage rate.
Under the Georgia Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a requirement for tax increase hearings can be triggered by inflation in property values from reappraisals, as happened with the Bulloch County government this year. Unlike the city’s proposal for an actual increase, the county commissioners kept their millage the same but did not adopt a rollback rate.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.