Sunday, July 17, 2022

Oconee County Commissioners To Cut Millage Rate To Offset Growth In Property Tax Assessments Due To Market Forces

***Decision Offsets Tax Increase***

Oconee County commissioners are scheduled to adopt on Aug. 2 new millage rates for the unincorporated and incorporated parts of the county that are 0.7 points lower than the current rates.

When the Board of Commissioners adopted its Fiscal Year 2023 Budget on June 7, Board Chair John Daniell said he expected to be able to propose a millage rate reduction for 2022 to offset inflationary market growth in property value.

The new rates were published as required by law in The Oconee Enterprise on Thursday, and Daniell confirmed on Saturday that the new rates will result in a tax increase only for real growth in the tax digest.

The new rates Daniell will put before the Board for action on Aug. 2 are 5.954 for the unincorporated parts of the county, down from 6.650 in 2021, and 6.804 for those who live inside the boundaries of the county’s four cities, down from 7.590.

Most of the property tax county residents pay is for Oconee County Schools, and the budget adopted by the Board of Education on June 6 presumed a more modest drop in the millage rate of 0.25 mills, down from the current 16.50.

The Board of Education will have to vote on a new millage rate in August as well, and it will get a report on the tax increase reflected in the rate it adopts.

The county posted the news of its new millage rates on its web site on Wednesday, following the regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday and in anticipation of the legal announcement in the advertisement in the Enterprise.

At that meeting on Tuesday, the Board received an update on progress on the planned move of the Oconee County Library to Wire Park, agreed to build a roundabout at the county’s planned new administrative building, and decided to move forward with plans for a roundabout at Cole Springs Road and Hog Mountain Road.

Trend In Millage Rate

The drop in the county’s millage rates–representing a 10.5 percent decline in the unincorporated parts of the county and 10.4 percent shift in the incorporated parts of the county–followed much more modest declines in 2021.

Click To Enlarge

Last year, the drop was from 6.686 to 6.650 in the unincorporated parts of the county and from 7.616 to 7.590 in Bishop, Bogart, North High Shoals, and Watkinsville.

Each year, Oconee County Tax Commissioner Jennifer Riddle determines the tax digest, or the value of property in the county, and identifies which parts of growth are due to changes in the use of the property, and which parts are due to simple market forces.

If the adopted millage rate results in increased taxes for properties that remain unchanged in use, that is considered a tax increase.

State law then requires the governing authority to notify the public of the tax increase and hold a public hearing.

Last year, the county would have had to have rolled back the millage rate an additional .314 mills in the unincorporated parts of the county and 0.439 in the incorporated parts of the county to have avoided a tax increase.

The Board of Education did not drop its interest rate last year.

The Board of Education would have had to have reduced the millage rate by .882 to keep taxes flat last year.

Four Cities

Each of the four cities in the county also collects property taxes and is required to adopt a millage rate each year.

Watkinsville has said it will not decrease its millage tax rate for 2022, now at 2.081 mills.

The current rate for Bogart is 2.664, including that part of the city in Clarke County.

The rate in North High Shoals is 1.071, and the rate in Bishop is 1.713.

Oconee County sets a different rate for properties in the cities from those not in a city because of a required rollback in the unincorporated parts of the county for insurance premium taxes.

Counties are required to rollback the property taxes of unincorporated property owners if the proceeds from the insurance premiums taxes it receives from the state are not used by the county for such services as a police force (separate from the Sheriff), fire protection, and garbage and solid waste collection.

Counties must submit their property Tax Digest and the proposed millage to the Georgia Department of Revenue no later than September 1.

A millage rate reflects dollars per thousand of assessed value of a property, so the county’s proposed millage rate of 5.954 mills is $5.954 per thousand of assessed value. Assessed value is 40 percent of market value.

County Web Site

The county web site on Wednesday stated that “In compliance with Georgia law, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners hereby announces its intention to adopt a millage rate of 5.954 (unincorporated) and 6.804 (incorporated).”

“Under current Georgia law, the proposed millage rates are NOT considered to result in a tax increase,” the statement continues.

The tax digest increased from $2.4 million to $2.8 million, according to the five-year history of the levy published in the Enterprise and available on the county web site.

The total taxes levied for the county will increase from $16.5 million to $17.0 million.

In his text message to me on Saturday morning, Commission Chair Daniell said the county was granting a “full roll back so no tax hearing” will be required.

“The increase amount shown is new digest growth less new exemptions,” he added.

Library Update

Rob and Carmen Ponder of Ponder and Ponder Architects of Norcoss, appeared before the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday to provide an update on the move of the Oconee County Library on Experiment Station Road to the mixed use development on Barnett Shoals Road in Watkinsville called Wire Park.

Rendition Of New Library

“We're very excited to be here tonight to tell you all an update of what we've been able to figure out and work on out of the Wire Park complex,” Rob Ponder said.

Rob Ponder said the existing 25,000 square foot warehouse building will be converted and “we’re going to be a 21st Century Library within that shell.”

The current library on Experiment Station Road is 20,000 square foot in size, he said, and the new library will use that same amount of space with 5,000 set aside for future expansion.

“This will be a very pedestrian friendly user area for people coming up to use the library, to using all of Wire Park, but also they're hoping for a whole lot of people going to the library will then patronize the food places or the people at the food places will come patronize the library,” he said.

“We do have the convenience of having some very close-in parking that is right next to the library,” he added.

Needed Support Columns

“We were able to determine in looking at the structure of the building that it was bare minimum structure to carry lights and a sprinkler,” Rob Ponder continued.

“In order for us to put ceilings and mechanical ducts and air conditioning and all that into this, we are having to add a row of beams inside the building,” he said. The plans is to add 10 new columns in the space, he said.

The final building will have a large open area and a room for meetings, possibly accessible from the outside, Rob Ponder said.

Ponder said he expects to have bids in for the construction around Thanksgiving and for construction to start in January. Construction should take nine to 10 months to complete, he said.

The Oconee County Library Board of Trustees voted in January of 2021 to move the Oconee County Library from its current location on Experiment Station Road on the northwest side of Watkinsville to Wire Park on the southeast of the city.

With that decision, the Board reversed a decision it had made in July of 2019 to move the library to the county’s planned administrative building just outside the city’s northern boundaries.

The state has allocated $1.9 million toward the new facility, and the county has said it will add $1.2 million to that amount.

New Administrative Building

The county has gone ahead with it plans for a new administrative building at the intersection of North Main Street (SR 15) and the U.S. 441 bypass on the north of Watkinsville.

Rendition Of New Administration Building

Mathias Corporation of Lawrenceville was the successful bidder for the project with a guaranteed maximum price of $14.8 million.

The building will be the location of non-judicial government offices currently located in the Courthouse in downtown Watkinsville, the Oconee County Annex on SR 15 on the south side of Watkinsville, and other buildings, including those located around the Courthouse.

The official groundbreaking ceremony for the 44,000 square foot building was on June 30, and the construction is expected to be completed in mid-2023.

Access to the new building will be from a roundabout on North Main Street at Summit Grove Road.

On Tuesday, the Board awarded a bid for a price not to exceed $2,067,183 to E.R. Snell Contractor of Athens for that roundabout.

Cole Springs Road

Also on Tuesday, the Board agreed to move forward with plans for a roundabout at the intersection of Cole Springs Road and Hog Mountain Road in the west of the county.

Dan Dawson Before Board 7/12/2022

The county will work with the Georgia Department of Transportation on the design of that project. Hog Mountain Road is SR 53 and under state control.

Cole Springs Road leading up to the intersection will remain closed in the short term.

This action followed another lengthy discussion of the intersection and was approved in a split vote of the Board.

Commissioners Amrey Harden and Mark Saxon voted against the motion. Commission Chair Daniell broke the tie in favor of working with the state on a roundabout design.

The Board also approved intersection design improvements, probably roundabouts, for Lane Creek Road at Moores Ford Road, Lane Creek Road at Snows Mill Road, Snows Mill Road at Cole Springs Road, Union Church Road at New High Shoals Road, and Astondale Road at Colham Ferry Road.

The county will seek design plans for these improvements and then have them ready should funding come available for the actual work.

Dan Dawson, who lives on Cole Springs Road at Lane Creek Road, said that intersection was more important than the five proposed for improvement by the county. Dawson was the only citizen who spoke at the meeting on Tuesday.


The video below is on the county YouTube channel.

The actual meeting starts at 4:05 in the video.

The report on the library begins at 7:08 in the video.

Discussion of the roundabout at the new administrative building is at 21:19 in the video.

Discussion of Cole Springs Road begins at 23:23 in the video.

Discussion of the other five intersection improvements began at 58:30 in the video.

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