Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Oconee County Commissioners To Roll Back Millage Rate Again To Offset Inflation In Property Tax Assessments

***Commission Approve Probate Services Contract***

Oconee County commissioners are set to roll back the millage rate for county property taxes for the fourth year in a row and decrease the rate sufficiently to offset inflation for the second year in a row.

The new rate will not represent a tax increase, and the Commission will not be required to hold a tax hearing before setting the millage rate at its regular meeting on July 9. The Board approved the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget at the June 4 meeting.

Oconee County Commission Chair John Daniell told the commissioners at that meeting on June 4 that he had received the county’s tax digest from Tax Commissioner Jennifer Riddle and felt confident the county could fund its budget with a rolled back tax rate.

In an email message today (June 18), Daniell confirmed his earlier assessment and said the millage rate will reflect a “full rollback.”

Also at that meeting on June 4, Daniell reported to the Commission that he had reached an agreement with the four Superior Court Judges of the Western Judicial Circuit for Oconee County to continue to contract with CSRA Probation Services Inc. for misdemeanor probation services for the county.

In August of last year, then Chief Superior Court Judge Eric Norris told the commissioners that he would not allow the county to renew its contract with the private firm and that the county either had to set up its own probation program or join the Athens-Clarke County’s probation program.

Following Daniell’s report on June 4 on his discussions with the judges, the Commission voted unanimously to approve the five-year contract with CSRA, beginning on July 1, 2024. The contract does not require county funding, as CSRA bills the offenders for the services it provides.

The Board also approved a rezone request for two duplexes just north of the Watkinsville city boundary, despite the recommendation of the county’ planning staff that the request be denied. The county Planning Commission had recommended approval.

Budget Approval

The county held hearings on its Fiscal Year 2025 Budget on May 7 and on May 21. The General Fund Budget includes $40.7 million of revenue and spending and is part of a total budget for the county of $76.8 million.

Screen Shot Daniell (Center) On Millage Rate 6/4/2024

Melissa Braswell, county Finance Director, told the Commission at the June 4 meeting that nothing had changed in the budget since that second hearing on May 21.

The budget, Braswell had said at both of those hearings, used estimates of income for the coming year based on monies currently being received by the county, and that no millage rate had been used in projecting revenue.

The millage rate at present is 4.824 for the unincorporated parts of the county and 5.804 for those residents within the boundaries of the county’s four cities. The rate is higher in the cities because the unincorporated rate includes a rollback reflecting state insurance premium disbursements to the county.

When Braswell had finished, Daniell said “I do want to mention that we've received our first draft of the (tax) digest from the tax commissioner. It appears we will be able to do a full roll back and meet the budget.”

The county rolled back taxes last year sufficient to offset inflationary growth and dropped the millage rate each of the two preceding years.

In an email message this morning (Tuesday), Daniell told me “We will set the rate on July 9th. The rate will reflect a full rollback.”

School Taxes

In the unincorporated parts of the county, school taxes are 75.7 percent of the property taxes. In the county’s four cities, that figure is 72.1 percent. (Property taxes paid to the cities are not included in this calculation.)

The Board of Education last week adopted a Fiscal Year 2025 Budget based on holding the millage rate for Oconee County Schools steady at 15.0 mills, but Oconee County Schools Chief Financial Officer Peter Adams said he had just received the tax digest from Riddle.

The School Board is expected to set the final millage rate on Aug. 5.

Georgia law requires that a rollback millage rate must be calculated when the tax digest is produced each year. The tax digest is the value of property in the county.

The rollback rate is the rate that would produce the same total revenue from the new digest as would have been produced had inflation not increased the value of (and assessments of ) property in the digest.

If the Board of Education does not roll back the millage rate to account for inflation, it will be required by state law to hold three public hearings before adoption of the millage rate.

Probation Services

Daniell had presented to the Board a draft of a new contract with CSRA Probation Services Inc. for misdemeanor probation services at its agenda-setting meeting on May 21.

At the June 4 meeting, Daniell said he had reviewed that contract with the Superior Court judges and made a number of changes requested by the judges.

At the August 29, 2023, agenda-setting meeting of the Commission, those judges were in attendance as Chief Superior Court Judge Norris told the commissioners that he did not intend to allow the county to renew its contract with CSRA Probation Services Inc.

Norris said he did not believe CSRA can provide the services the county will need in the future, particularly because of the growth in crime in the county’s commercial center.

The county does not spend any money on misdemeanor probation services under the current contract with CSRA. CSRA funds its services though the fees that probationers pay directly to the company.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell estimated that it would cost the county about $500,000 to join in a circuit wide probation system with Athens-Clarke County and possibly even more to create its own county wide system.

The contract with CSRA that the Board approved on June 4 calls for the signatures of current Chief Superior Court Judge Lisa Lott, Oconee County Magistrate Court Judge Richard Connelly, and Oconee County Probate Court Judge Mike Hunsinger.

Daniell is to sign for the county, and Ginny Kent, President of CSRA, is to sign the contract for CSRA.

Rezone Request

The Commission held a public hearing at the beginning of the meeting on June 4 on the request by Richard Grayson to combine two parcels, one zoned Mobile Home District (M-H) and the other zoned Agricultural Residential District (AR), to create a single lot zoned Two-Family Residential District (R-2).

Representative Architecture For Duplex
Submitted By Greer

Grayson is proposing to build two single-story duplexes on the combined parcels accessible off Moreland Way and backing up to U.S. 441.

The county planning staff recommended denial of the requested R-2 zoning, saying it is “not consistent with the adjacent uses that are single family residences,” that there is “no adjacent R-2 zoning or any R-2 zoning in the vicinity,” and the proposed used is not consistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

Justin Greer, of Pittman and Greer Engineering, representing Grayson, told the Commissioners that the planning staff was incorrect in its assessment of the neighborhood.

“The adjacent sites are not solely single family residences,” Greer said. “You can stand at his driveway and throw a rock and hit that mobile home,” he said, referring to a picture he had projected on the screen in front of the commissioners.

“There are mobile homes on Morland Way, Morland Heights, and Morland Drive,” he said. “By definition a mobile home park is multi-family.”

Greer had made the same argument at the Planning Commission meeting on May 20, and that group voted 7 to 1 to recommend that the Board of Commissioners approve the rezone.

No one else spoke, either in favor of or in opposition to the rezone request on June 4, and the Commission voted unanimously, without discussion, to approve Grayson’s request.


The video below is on the Oconee County YouTube Channel.

Discussion of the Grayson rezone request begins at 6:22 in the video.

Daniell began discussion of the probation services at 24:31 in the video.

Discussion of the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget begins at 29:34.

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