Columbia County commissioners kicked off the new year in 2006 by worrying about the possibility of raising taxes to keep up with demand for county services.
The tax increase came in the form of a voter-approved bond referendum in November that will raise property taxes by 1 mill. Yet as the year ended, commissioners began predicting the possibility of a tax cut in 2007. What a difference a year - and a few new shopping centers - makes.
Columbia County residents have every reason to be optimistic. Thanks to significant growth of retail outlets in late 2005 and throughout 2006, sales tax receipts continue to set records.
In fact, the latest figures available show sales tax revenues in Columbia County skyrocketed by 22 percent in 2006 over comparable figures in 2005. September alone saw a 46 percent increase over the previous year - and those figures, the latest available, don't even scratch the lucrative Christmas shopping season.
All that revenue flowing into county coffers - approaching $2 million per month for the county, and a similar amount to the school system - shouldn't just mean more money for public officials to spend.
That's why County Commission Chairman Ron Cross recently floated the idea of pursuing a property tax rollback in 2007. "We've never had one in the county that I'm aware of, and I think the citizens need a break," Cross says.
Actually, though it's been several years, the school board has lowered the millage rate before as a result of additional revenue from the sales tax. But it's been so long that it's no surprise Cross wouldn't remember it; like other county taxpayers, it's likely all he can remember is the annual cycle of tax increases disguised as higher property assessments.
In that scenario, the millage rate doesn't go up, but higher property values make the tax bills rise anyway. County officials shrug, taxpayers fork over the money, and the whole thing happens again the next year.
Could this year be different? After floating the idea of a millage-rate hike that happened only by voter consent in 2006, commissioners are now hinting at a decrease for 2007 thanks mostly to the county's robust retail environment.
It certainly would be welcome, as is another potential arrival in 2007: impact fees. Finally, homeowners could catch a break after years of supplying the money to help pay for development's blooming demand on infrastructure.
As the new year begins, the idea of lower taxes certainly is something to be optimistic about - and taxpayers should remind their elected officials about it every chance they get.
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