Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Oconee School Board Announces Public Hearings On Proposed 9.53 Percent Tax Increase

***Announcement Includes Drop In Millage Rate***

The Oconee County Board of Education on Wednesday afternoon announced the dates for three public hearings on a proposed 9.53 percent increase in school property taxes for the current year.

The announcement includes a surprise proposed drop in the millage rate for the schools from the current 15.5 mills to 15.0 mills.

The 9.53 percent tax increase is just lower than the 9.8 percent proposed by the Board a year ago and just slightly more than double the 4.73 percent increase the Board approved after citizen protest at tax hearings last summer.

The legal announcement appears on page A3 of the county’s legal organ, The Oconee Enterprise, as well in slightly different form on the Oconee County Schools Web site.

The hearings are scheduled for 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on July 24 and 5:30 p.m. on July 31.

All three hearings will be in the Board of Education Board Room, 34 School Street, Watkinsville.

Adopted Budget

The Board of Education, in its last public meeting on June 6, adopted a Final Budget for the current 2024 Fiscal Year that generated $45.9 million in Property and Ad Valorem Taxes based on a millage rate of 15.5, the same as last year.

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That approved budget was based on an estimated Tax Digest of $3.023 billion.

Jennifer Riddle has subsequently released the final Tax Digest figure of $3.264 billion as well as a rollback rate, that is the rate that would not result in a tax increase.

That rollback rate is 13.695, according to the PT-32.1 Form that Riddle released on Wednesday after the Enterprise published the electronic edition of the paper.

The 15.0 mill rate will generate $48,967,003 in revenue, according to Riddle’s calculations, shown in the legal advertisement in Thursday’s Enterprise.

Oconee County Schools budgets with the assumption that only 98 percent of the projected property tax revenue will be received.

So the $48,967,003 generated by the 15.0 mill rate would be reduced to $47,987,663, which is $2,064,015 more than the $45,923,648 listed in the budget approved by the Board in June as revenue from property taxes.

The rollback rate of 13.695 would produce $2,110,912 less than the budgeted amount.

A rate of 14.35483 would produce $46,860,865. If that were reduced by 2 percent, the amount generated would be $45,923,648, or the amount in the budget approved by the Board in June.

Language Of Announcement

The Board of Education has not held a public meeting since it adopted the $105.97 million Fiscal Year 2024 Budget at its meeting on June 5. The millage rate in that budget was 15.5, the same as for Fiscal Year 2023.

The advertisement in the Enterprise states that “The Oconee County Board of Education has tentatively adopted a 2023 millage rate which will require an increase in property taxes by 9.53 percent.”

The announced millage rate in the advertisement is 15.0 mills.

The news release on the Oconee County Schools web site says that “Oconee County Schools is recommending a total millage rate of 15.0 mills for Fiscal Year 2024 and has set dates for three public hearings on the millage rate.”

Oconee County Schools generally refers to the school administration. Last year, School Superintendent Jason Branch recommended a millage rate of 16.25, but the Board, after strong reactions from citizens, set the rate at 15.5.

“On June 5, the Oconee County Board of Education tentatively adopted a millage rate of 15.5 mills based on a county tax digest estimate,” according to the news release on the county web site. “The final tax digest now has been provided by the county’s tax commissioner.”

“Although the recommended millage rate has decreased, Georgia law requires the millage rate of 15.0 to be advertised as a property tax increase because the assessed value of existing property in Oconee County has increased since last year.”

The Oconee County Schools news release directs readers to a copy of the budget, which is unchanged from the June 5 meeting and shows a millage rate of 15.5.

Calculations Of Digest Change

According to Tax Commission Riddle’s calculations in the PT-32.1 form on computation of millage rate rollbacks, the Oconee County Tax digest grew from $2,818,122,370 in 2022 to its current $3,264,466,842 due to two factors.

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The first, accounting for $380,150,387, was from reassessment of existing property. This growth is the result of market forces, rather than any change in the property that would result from addition of a room or a change in land use.

The second factor producing growth in the tax digest is real change in the property, such as when a new store or home is built. The amount of growth of this type in the last year, according to Riddle’s report, was $66,194,085.

The rollback rate removes the tax increase resulting from the growth in reassessments of unchanged properties.

The amount of the tax increase is calculated as the difference between the proposed millage rate (15.0) and the rollback rate (13.695) divided by the rollback rate, or 9.53 percent, reflecting the percentage of increase beyond the rollback rate.

The second notice in the Enterprise calculates the tax increase as the growth in actual taxes levied for Oconee County Schools over a year ago.

That calculation produces a tax increase of 12.1 percent.

County Tax Rates

The bulk of the taxes Oconee County property owners pay goes to Oconee County Schools.

For Fiscal Year 2024, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners cut the millage rate for the unincorporated parts of the county by more than a mill, resulting in a tax decrease of 8.43 percent.

The Board cut the tax rate in the incorporated parts of the county by a full mill, resulting in a tax decrease of 2.26 percent.

The millage rate for the unincorporated parts of the county is 4.824, or well below the rollback rate of 5.268.

The millage rate for the incorporated parts of the county is 5.804, or below the rollback rate of 5.938.

Release Of Millage Rate Announcement

Enterprise Editor Michael Prochaska told me the paper received the legal advertisements in tomorrow’s paper on the afternoon of July 7 with the requirement that it be embargoed and not shared with the paper’s editorial staff prior to publication.

Prochaska said the first time he saw the advertisement was on Wednesday morning (today) as he was proof reading the pages prior to final publication.

I had planned to share this story with tomorrow’s Enterprise but was unable to do so because of the embargo.

Last year, the release of the advertisements in the Enterprise resulted in angry protests, particularly at the final of the three hearings.

After that final hearing, Board members defended the proposed 16.25 millage rate, which was a drop of .25 from the year earlier.

Then, without deliberation, the Board dropped the rate to 15.5 mills.

The 15.5 mill rate produced a tax increase of 4.7 percent rather than the originally proposed 9.8 percent increase.

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