Once a series of now-annual hearings are completed, Columbia County's four governing bodies - the cities of Harlem and Grovetown, and the county's board of education and board of commissioners - will have completed the legal requirements for spending nearly $12 million more of your tax dollars next year.
State law requires local governments to boldly declare a tax increase if property values rise and taxes aren't cut by a corresponding amount.
The law is all about posturing, something state lawmakers love to do - especially when they aren't the ones made to look bad as a result. But the law is useful because it lays out in the open the uncomfortable fact that rising property values, without a rollback in tax rates, result in tax increases for property owners.
The good news in rising property values is that homes, which usually are a taxpayer's largest investment, are worth more. In Columbia County, tax assessments rose by more than 10 percent this year.
The only problem is that such rising value is accessible only to those who intend to sell their property. That's great for speculators, but it stinks for long-time homeowners who see only rising tax bills. Sure, they'll make money on a sale one day - or their heirs will - but that's little comfort when it's time to write a check for higher taxes.
Fortunately for homeowners, the share of county tax revenue from sources other than residential property tax is gradually rising. Theoretically, that should ease future burdens from hard-hit homeowners.
The question, though, is do homeowners really care? Rollback hearings on the four governments' tax plans began this past week, and continue on the next two Mondays and Tuesdays. In spite of the real money at stake, virtually no one attends these hearings.
Sure, state lawmakers can require local governments to hold the hearings - but they can't force local taxpayers to attend to see how their tax dollars will be put to work.
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