Oconee County citizens will have a series of opportunities this week to express their views on what amounts to tax increases both for county government and for the county’s schools.
While the Board of Commissioners has held the tax rate constant from last year, the increase in property value translates to tax increases of 3.45 percent for the unincorporated parts of the county and 2.95 percent for the incorporated parts of the county.
The Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education adopted fiscal year budgets, which began on July 1 of this year, based on the proposed tax rates, and the Board of Commissioners has called a meeting for Thursday to adopt the millage rates, almost certainly regardless of what citizens say in the public hearings.
The opportunities for public comment are dictated by state law.
The Board of Commissioners has scheduled public hearings on the tax increases for noon and 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday and for 12:30 p.m. on Thursday. Those hearings will take place in the Commission Chambers at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
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The Board of Education held hearings on Aug. 27 and has another scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thursday. The Thursday hearing, as was true for the hearings last week, is in the Board Meeting Room at the Superintendent’s Office, 34 School Street, Watkinsville.
The called meeting of the BOC is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Thursday, also in the Commission Chambers.
On order of the Sheriff, the front entrance to the Courthouse is scheduled to be closed starting on Sept. 1, so those interested in attending the hearings on the county tax increases will have to enter through the side door on the south side of the Courthouse.
Millage Rates To Be Enacted
The Board of Commissioners prides itself on holding the millage rate steady, and, in fact, it has been at 6.686 since 2008 for the unincorporated parts of the county.
The rate for the property in the county’s four cities has varied just slightly over the years, as the amount of the rollbacks for tax insurance has varied.
State law allows the Commissioners to reduce tax rates for unincorporated parts of the county to offset revenue the cities receive from a tax on insurance companies operating in the state that is over and above the amount the county receives from its tax on insurance companies.
In 2015, the county will rollback the tax for the unincorporated parts of the county by 4.380 mills, while it will role back the tax for the properties in the four cities only by 3.420 mills. The rollback last year for the county was 4.310 mills, while it was 3.330 mills for the cities.
One mill is equivalent to one-tenth of a cent or $0.001.
Reasons For Tax Increases
The tax increases are the result of increased property valuation coming out of the recession and the tax rates set by the governmental bodies.
The Board of Commissioners would have had to have dropped the millage rate for the unincorporated parts of the county to 6.463 and for the incorporates parts of the county to 7.427 to remain tax neutral.
The difference between the millage rate of 6.463 and 6.686, or 0.223, represents an increase of 3.45 percent for the unincorporated parts of the county.
The difference between the millage rate of 7.427 and 7.646, or 0.219, represents an increase of 2.95 percent for the incorporated parts of the county.
Property value for the purposes of calculating the county’s taxes increased from $1,485,798,743 to $1,600,445,490, or 7.7 percent, and the increased taxes the county will receive also will go up by 7.7 percent.
The tax an individual property owner pays is based on the assessed value of her or his property, and the 7.7 percent increase is the average across the county.
The overall tax revenues have been increasing steadily since 2012, as the chart above shows.
School Tax Rate
The Board of Education chose to drop its tax rate from 17.5 mills to 17.0 mills, resulting in the smaller tax increase.
The Board of Education would have had to have dropped the millage rate to 16.92 to have avoided a tax increase.
The difference between the 16.92 rate and the 17.00 rate, or 0.080 mills, is the basis for the calculation of the 0.47 percent tax increase.
The actual amount of revenue the tax will produce for the schools represents an increase of 4.8 percent.
The Board of Commissioners was confronted with pressure for additional spending as it prepared its FY 2015-2016 budget, particularly to increase staff in various departments.
Those departments asked for 16 full-time positions and eight part-time positions.
Two of those full-time positions were for Animal Control, and three were for Parks and Recreation.
The Sheriff requested three full-time positions as well.
Parks and Recreation also requested five part-time positions, the Senior Center requested two, and the Civic Center requested one.
In the end, the BOC gave the Sheriff two full-time positions, Parks and Recreation three, the Senior Center two, and the Civic Center one.
The budget includes a 3 percent increase in salaries for county employees.