Columbia County commissioners agreed last week to keep the county's millage rate unchanged for the next fiscal year, but that doesn't mean some homeowners won't be paying more taxes.
Construction vehicles line an open field where the new Target shopping center will be at Mullins Crossing on Washington Road. New construction has accounted for 70 percent of Columbia County's tax digest increase this year.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Before the commission voted unanimously for a county millage rate of 7.70, Commission Chairman Ron Cross referred to the rate as "not really an increase, but you'll pay more."
In part, that's because property value assessments this year have increased by $1.4 million. Of that increase, about $480,000 came from additions to existing houses or businesses, including swimming pools, said County Administrator Steve Szablewski.
The remaining 70 percent of the tax digest's increase comes from new construction.
"If the property value stays the same, it will be the same tax as last year," he said.
This year, though, there also will be an extra tax added for a new county fire service district, which takes the place of paying for fire service on a subscription fee basis. Szablewski said that for most people the special district tax should be less expensive than paying a subscription fee.
That district doesn't cover the county's portion of Fort Gordon, or Harlem or Grovetown, which will determine their own rates. To fund the fire service next year, commissioners approved 1.6 mills to be levied, bringing in an estimated $4 million extra into Columbia County's coffers.
The commission also formally approved the millage rate set by the county's school board - 17.18 mills - which is unchanged for the new fiscal year.
The county commission had the opportunity to roll back the county millage rate from 7.70 to 7.51, but Szablewski said that would have left a $487,634 hole in the county's budget.
"We would have had to figure out where in the operational budget to cut enough to suffer that decrease in revenue," he said.
Cross said although such a cut in revenue wouldn't be possible this year, he hopes to have a rollback in the future.
"I would like to see us do that in the coming years," he said. "I think it is time the Columbia County citizens got a break on this."
However, Szablewski said the only way to do so would be to either cut county expenses or rely on increased sales tax revenue from future commercial development.
"When you're growing from 66,000 in '90 and now we have 100,000 (population), there's an increased number of citizens requiring services," Szablewski said. "So, it's very difficult."
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