Oconee County commissioners are set to approve a new millage rate for the vast majority of property owners in the county that represents an 8.4 percent cut in property taxes.
The millage rate of 4.824 reflects a larger cut than the 1 mill drop in property taxes the commissioner promised when voters approved the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax last November.
The millage rate for those voters who live in the legal boundaries of the county’s four cities (5.804) will be exactly 1 mill lower than last year’s rate and represents a 2.3 percent cut in ad valorem taxes.
The millage rate is higher and the cut is lower for those living within the city boundaries--which do not correspond with postal addresses–because of the way the state distributes revenues from what amounts to a sales tax on insurance premiums paid by people who live within the county.
Board of Commissioner Chair John Daniell announced at the Board’s agenda setting meeting last week the millage rates that the Board is scheduled to adopt on July 11.
Tax Commissioner Jennifer Riddle released the calculation of the official percent of the tax cuts today (Monday). Those calculations take into consideration inflationary and real growth in the tax digest.
The Board of Education has approved a budget for Fiscal Year 2024 that is based on a millage rate of 15.5, the same as last year, but Riddle said she does not anticipate publication of the final millage rate by the Board of Education until July 13.
In other action at the Board of Commissioners meeting last week, the commissioners received the final master plans for the county’s parks and for a proposed county trail system and agreed to pave a heavily traveled section of Union Church Road.
Millage Rate Announcement
The county actually posted the new millage rates on its web site on Monday of last week, and Daniell elaborated on the rate at the meeting on Monday.
|Davol Before Board 6/27/2023|
The county officially published the rate on page A5 of the county legal organ, The Oconee Enterprise, on Thursday.
“On our next meeting, July the 11th, we’ll approve the millage rate,” Daniell said. “In the unincorporated areas, that'll be 4.824. That's a 1.13 mill reduction from last year.
“In the Incorporated area--or within the cities–it will be 5.084, which is a solid mill reduction,” he said.
The difference between the two millage rates is related to the state insurance premium tax, Daniell said. The premium is the amount paid for insurance by the purchaser.
The tax revenue from that tax on premiums is distributed directly to the four cities, Daniell said. The county receives the tax only for those not living in the cities.
In the county, “We roll that back and give credit back to the property owner,” Daniell said. That credit is not give to those living in the city limits of Bishop, Bogart, North High Shoals, and Watkinsville because the county does not receive that tax from the state.
Just a little less 88 percent of the county’s population lives in the unincorporated parts of the county, or outside those four cities.
Response From Harden
Before Daniell spoke, Commissioner Amry Harden said “I don’t want to take your thunder from the announcement that was made on the website yesterday.”
“But I do want to thank you, John, and Justin, Melissa, and everybody that had anything to do with the budget this year for the hard work they did,” referring to County Administrator Justin Kirouac and Melissa Braswell, county Finance Director.
“I also want to thank them for that reason you know for the millage rate that we'll be adopting in our next meeting,” Harden continued.
“I want to thank the voters of Oconee County that supported the TSPLOST to make that possible,” he added
“I just want to go on record and thank everybody,” he said.
In the November of 2022 referendum, 51.3 percent of those voting approved of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. A year earlier, 52.8 percent had voted against the tax.
The vote resulted in an increase in the county’s sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent.
In September–before the vote–the Board formally passed a resolution committing to a 1 mill reduction in property taxes if voters passed the transportation sales tax
The notice of the millage rate and the Current 2023 Property Tax Digest and 5 Year History of Levy, published in the Enterprise last week and available on the county web site, shows a growth in the Tax Digest from $2.8 billion in 2022 to $3.3 billion in 2023.
The Tax Digest depicts the assessed total value of all property listed in the county.
Most of that growth in 2023 from 2022 was in the unincorporated parts of the county, from $2.5 billion to $2.9 billion.
In the incorporated parts of the county, the growth was from $287,257,928 in 2022 to $338,116,426 in 2023.
In the unincorporated parts of the county, according to the data released by Tax Commissioner Riddle on Monday, 85.0 percent of the $396,504,883 in growth was from reassessment of existing real property.
This growth is often referred to as inflation, since the property itself has not been physically altered.
In the incorporated parts of the county, 84.7 percent of the $50,858,498 in growth was from reassessment of existing real property.
By state law, the governing authority has to roll back its millage rate to eliminate new revenue that is from reassessment or inflation to avoid having a tax increase.
The rollback rate for the unincorporated parts of the county was 5.286, so the millage rate the county proposes to adopt on July 11 of 4.824 is a drop in taxes of 8.43 percent.
The rollback rate for the incorporated parts of the county is 5.938, so the rate of 5.804 that the Board proposes to adopt on July 11 is a drop in taxes of 2.26 percent.
The net tax change for the whole county is negative 5.52 percent.
The Fiscal Year 2024 budget that the Board of Education has adopted is based on a millage rate of 15.5, the same as the rate from last year.
Riddle has not released the calculation of the resulting tax increase if the School Board goes forward with official publication of that rate, which Riddle expects will be on July 13.
The Board of Education, by law, also must publish the dates for hearings on any tax increase.
The adopted Board of Education Fiscal Year 2024 Budget is based on a Tax Digest of $3.023 billion, while the final Tax Digest released by Riddle is $3.265 billion.
As a result, the millage rate of 15.5 will produce more revenue than is listed in the approved budget.
Park Master Plans
Lisa Davol, Director of the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department, gave the Board of Commissioners at its meeting last week “a quick recap on kind of the process that we've gone through for almost a year now” in creating the master plans for the county’s parks and a trail master plan.
|Trail Master Plan Overview Map|
“We started with receiving just some feedback from the park staff as well as feedback that they received from surveys and from their interaction with the public on our current Park Master Plans and any changes to those,” she said.
The next step, she was, was a “goal setting” meeting with the Board of Commissioners in October of last year where “we presented those updated Park Master Plans and had further discussion.”
“In November of last year,” she continued, “we presented those to the Recreation Advisory Committee and received feedback from them as well.”
“And then of course, as you know,” she said, “in March we did the Town Hall (meeting), which was dedicated to Park Master Plans.”
“So what was sent to you is those updated plans,” Davol said,
“I would say that most of the most significant changes would have been to Heritage Park, which was really just the inclusion of some horse and mountain bike amenities.”
The proposed new park at the current Land Application System site also changed, she said, but there were “just minor changes to the other parks.”
Trail Master Plan
Davol said she also was presenting to the Board “the county-wide trail system map that the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission provided.” It is the first such plan created by or for the county.
“They (NEGRC staff) came to the Recreation Advisory Committee and received feedback and then also finalized that plan too,” she said.
“I will say that we did receive a good bit of feedback when it came to the County Trail Map as well as just trails in general,” Davol said.
“Probably trails had one of the most significant number of and volume of input” from the public, she said.
The 16-page document on the county web site from the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission says “This plan provides a blueprint for local decision-makers and advocates for investing in transportation choices and infrastructure.”
“All existing trails in the County are in the local parks,” the document states. “Oconee Veterans Park has about one mile of walking trails, and Heritage Park has almost eight miles of bicycle trails, 3.6 miles of equestrian trails, and less than a mile of multi-use trail.”
“Beyond these areas, there are few facilities supporting bicycle, pedestrian, or any nonmotorized transportation, therefore, connections to destinations within the county are limited,” according to the document.
“This plan identifies corridors that will provide the greatest benefit to county residents and seeks to create a blueprint for future opportunities,” the document states.
Overview Of Plan
The Trail Plan has three components.
The top priority is a box-like trail in the north of the county. Total length would be 15.2 miles.
The plan labels this as and “Off-street path improving connectivity of populated areas to schools and local parks.”
Two projects are labeled as Priority Two.
The first of these is an “Off-street 12 foot wide paved trail following the Athens Line railroad.” Total length of this Rails To Trails project would be 11.4 miles.
The second Priority Two project is “Launch sites and designated segments of the Middle Oconee, Oconee, and Apalachee Rivers for recreational use such as kayaking, canoeing, or tubing.”
The total distance of these two water trails is 17.9 miles.
The Board of Commissioners will discuss and consider adopting these plans at its meeting on July 11.
Union Church Road
Jody Woodall, Public Works Director for the county, told the Board at last week's meeting that he was seeking approval to spend $286,644 for the resurfacing of Union Church Road. Garrett Paving of Athens would do the work, he said,
The repaving would be, he said, “from roughly the about halfway between the (Oconee County High) School driveway and Whippoorwill Road down to New High Shells Road and maybe even picking up that intersection.”
“That's where we are having the most work order requests,” he said of the stretch of roadway.
Woodall said the money would come from TSPLOST and would be the first project with that funding. The county only began collecting the tax in April.
The Board gave tentative approval to the request, putting it on the consent agenda for the July 11 meeting
The video below is on the county YouTube Channel.
Harden made his comments on the millage rated at 2:56 and was followed by Daniell’s explanation of the rates.
Woodall began his presentation on Union Church Road at 7:06 in the video.
Davol began her presentation on the master plans at 11:25 in the video.
Note: The original story incorrectly reported the total tax digest in millions, rather than billions. I thank the readers who caught the error.