All those advertisements warning homeowners of a Columbia County property tax increase may have sounded ominous, but after all the math is done the owner of a $100,000 home will pay just $5.89 more per year.
That's the summation of information provided in a public hearing at the Appling Courthouse last week. With no members of the general public attending, the session took less than 10 minutes.
Tax meeting: The next rollback hearing is Thursday at 8 a.m. at the Evans Government Complex Auditorium, with the third and final hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday in Building E of the Government Complex in the Emergency Services Conference Room. Commissioners are expected to approved the tax digest for 2002-03 after the final hearing.
"The good news is, this shows most people are not upset about it," said County Administrator Steve Szablewski.
Even without an audience, Columbia County officials used the first of the three state-required "rollback hearings" to explain the county's tax digest, the rationale behind the "tax increase" language used in publicizing the hearings, and the increase in the state's homestead exemption grant.
The county's school board, which assesses 68 percent of the value of property tax bills, has been holding similar hearings.
"Basically, we have held the millage rate the same, but the homestead exemption has increased," said Szablewski.
Tax Commissioner Kay Allen pointed out that the state's homestead tax-relief grant rose this year to $8,000 from $6,000, part of a planned series of state-funded property tax cuts that are scheduled to eventually rise to $20,000 for every homestead. The county's hearing, and two others planned for Thursday, are a requirement of Georgia's Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
Under that 1999 law, counties that fail to roll back the property tax millage rate to offset increases in property value are required to declare a "tax increase" and to hold public meetings explaining the process.
The millage rate for Columbia County's maintenance and operation budget - the largest part of the county's expenditures, with one mill equaling $2.2 million in tax value - actually fell this year by slightly less than one-third of a percentage point. But rising property values, and an increase in the rate for debt service, mean a .41 percent increase in taxes.
County Commission Chairman Jim Whitehead said some homeowners were startled at advertisements declaring an 88 percent tax increase for debt service - until they read the fine print noting that the hike is from just .35 mills to .65 mills, and is offset by the reduced maintenance and operation rate.
After increased property values are factored in, the owner of a $100,000 home will see a property tax increase of $5.89; for a $125,000 home, the increase is $6.84; and for the owner of a $200,000 home, the tax bill rises $9.69.
County taxes represent 31 percent of property tax bills. The largest portion, 68 percent, funds the county's school system, while 1 percent is collected by the state.
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