Union Board of Education accepts 2021 millage rate rollback

News
2021 millage

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Union County Board of Education adopted the rollback for the 2021 millage rate in a called meeting.

The millage rate will be dropping to 9.734 mills. The previous rate was 11.749 mills. It’s some good news for Union County citizens who recently experienced a property reevaluation and many experienced significant property increases.

The county millage rate is also dropping from last year’s rate to 6.024 mills. County and Board of Education rates are combined to create the final millage used for property taxes.

The total county net tax increase in dollar amount for $997,886. The total digest value is $1,723,597,819 and the total M&O taxes levied for 2021 is $10,382,953. See the tax digest for a breakdown of the unincorporated and incorporated areas of Union County.

https://youtu.be/626yF3_5h9A

Union County accepting rollback for 2021 millage rate

News
public hearings millage rate courthouse Qualifying meetings state of emergency property

BLAIRSVILLE, GA – The 2021 millage rate will be dropping to 6.024 mills from last year’s 7.187 mills in Union County.

“The State Computation form indicates this is a 0.00% tax increase. The rollback rate is set by the State of Georgia using the county’s net digest number,” the county notice stated.

Union County recently completed a county-wide property reevaluation where many citizens saw substantial increases. At public hearings on the matter, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris promised the millage rate would come down from last year. The property taxes for the year had not been calculated yet.

2020’s millage rate triggered a 17 percent property tax increase on the county side, not including the board of education millage rate. The board of education is also lowering its 2021 millage rate.

The Georgia Department of Revenue has the net tax percent increase on the 2021 Tax Digest at 10.63 percent. The number is “based on growth in the county only (new properties, additions, etc.), NOT inflationary growth.”

The total county net tax increase in dollar amount for $997,886. The total digest value is $1,723,597,819 and the total M&O taxes levied for 2021 is $10,382,953. See the tax digest for a breakdown of the unincorporated and incorporated areas of Union County.

The next county meeting is on September 16 at 6 p.m. at the Union County Courthouse.

Packed room voices opinion on Union’s property reevaluation

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crowd for property reevaluation

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – A raucous crowd turned out in force to discuss taxes and property reevaluation after notices hit residents’ mailboxes at the start of the month.

The meeting was moved to the jury assembly room and some still had to stand for the 2-plus hour-long meeting focused on property values and taxes. Assistant Police Chief Shawn Dyer instructed the crowd to respect each other, or an officer would remove them from the meeting. The cantankerous didn’t always heed the advice after the meeting began, but no one was escorted out of the room.

“The growth is what causes expenses to go up. We all know that. No matter where you’ve been before. The more you grow the more those expenses are going to go up. And we will continue to prepare for them, but these are not simple solutions, and they all take time, careful consideration, and planning. We have and will continue to be working with the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission,” Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris opened.

Union County’s also working with the Carl Vinson Institute, University of Georgia, and TBT to assist with future planning and find other revenue options to help lower property taxes.

Sales tax captures all people in a county whether they are property owners, renters, employees, visitors, short-time residents, or short-term rental and we certainly want them to assist in paying with the operation of our government,” Paris said. “For anyone to say that we are trying to grow the county without any thought of planning our future is simply not accurate.”

Stan King from GMASS, the company hired to reevaluate property value in Union County, explained that the estimated tax on the bottom of the reassessment notice wasn’t the tax for 2021. The taxes for 2021 haven’t been set as of yet because the millage rate hasn’t been established.

Paris stated that the millage rate is likely to go down this year, but the county doesn’t know the exact number at this time. Departments are just now turning in budget requests for the next year. The millage rate is set according to what a county budget requires.

“We’re going to make every effort to cut that mill rate as much as possible. You’ve got my commitment that we’re going to try to do that and cut as much as we can. But we’ve also got these increased costs; they’re not huge, but they’re going to be enough because of the sheriff’s department – no offense to the sheriff’s department – but it’s hard. We’re finding firemen the same thing,” Paris explained about the millage rate and increased public safety departments. Many counties are competing for employees and they’re going to the areas offering the higher-paying jobs.

Chart of Union County home sales. The blue line indicates the average sale price and the red line is the assessed value.

The number on the reassessments uses last year’s millage rate and last year Union County experienced a 17 percent tax increase on the county side. The county and the school each propose a separate millage rate and then it’s combined for the overall rate.

Even with last year’s tax increase, Union County had the 12th lowest tax rate in Georgia. Previously, it was the third-lowest.

The property reassessments were contracted out in 2019 and just completed in 2021. The revaluation was necessary because Union County had fallen below the state’s Fair Market Value requirements.

King explained that a county wants to fall between .36 and .42 in assessed Fair Market Value, but Union County had fallen below that range. If a property reassessment hadn’t taken place, then the county would have been fined by the state. The new rate places Union County into the .38-.39 area.

In other words, the value of home sales in Union County has continued to exponentially increase, but the assessed value largely remained flat. The reassessment catches property values up to the home sales value.

“In 2016, when the market started to increase in the value of home sales… I really picked out home sales because that’s the predominant class of properties that make up the tax digest,” King explained. “Our assessments being so much flatter than what the market actually does. It’s our duty to mirror the market.”

The county’s requirement by law to appraise all property at fair market value every year. The physical assessment only has to take place every three years.

GMASS Stan King

GMASS Assessor Stan King explained the intricacies of the property evaluation process.

After the reassessment, the assessments were brought up to Fair Market Value compared to the sales price.

This is why some people are experiencing property value increases of 100 percent or more. As home sale prices increase, then the assessed value of homes needs to match.

The home sales value continues to increase in North Georgia, which means values will probably need to be adjusted again.

However, once the housing market takes a downward turn, property owners need to make a report of that as well. Appraisals are typically a year behind concerning market values. Still, the market typically corrects itself.

“Between January and April, I would encourage everyone to file their [property] returns just like you do on your income tax, you’re supposed to do it on your property tax. Most people do not,” King said. “You’re paying taxes based on your property on January 1.”

Property owners still have time to appeal the new assessments, around 25 days. The tax assessor’s office can approve or deny exemptions depending on the property, such exemptions include homestead and agriculture. Flood plains and easements are typically taken into account at the time of evaluation. However, there’s no item that you can appeal for the amount of value increase.

The appraised value measures from the outside-to-outside wall, but there’s a difference in square footage if it’s heated or not.

“There’s an inflationary number that will be given to them of what they need to roll that back to on the inflationary growth. So, if you have your property and you’ve done nothing to that property, but we’ve increased the value all that is inflationary – the whole value difference is inflationary,” King added about the tax digest and millage rate process.

The tax digest is made up of more than just real estate such as heavy equipment, auto tags, timber, planes, and real property.

One veteran and former police officer Kevin Bloodworth spoke as part of the meeting and stated the value of Union County is in its citizens. He also criticized the county’s communication methods about the property reevaluation, saying if it had been better explained, then people wouldn’t be as angry.

“You got people out here living on $900 a month or less in Social Security so even a $100 increase in taxes plus the congruent increase in their insurance that’s a meal for them. They can’t drive somewhere but a couple times a week. Inflation is up 2.5 percent. Gasoline is up a gallon. The head of the federal reserve is telling us this time next year we may be under crushing inflation,” Bloodworth remarked. “Your job sir and that of your staff is finding ways to make this palatable and acceptable for the value of our community.”

Bloodworth also advocated for new building impact fees in the county.

Paris addressed impact fees, using Dawson County as an example. Many north Georgia counties don’t charge impact fees for new construction.

“A few years ago, Dawson County instituted impact fees to slow their growth instead it only sped up their growth. And today while our property tax rate was 18.9 mills, 12th lowest in the state, Dawson County, a county with similar size, population, and property values, was 23.6 mills, which made them the 18th lowest in the state,” Paris explained. “If you live in Dawson County, they’re going to make $5 million to $6 million more on their property taxes than we are based on last year’s mill.”

Paris reiterated that the last thing he wants is uncontrolled growth in Union County, but some growth is necessary to maintain the quality of life in the area. He touted Union General Hospital and local small businesses. They must be considered when developing the county.

“There’s nothing I would have loved better than to have left our property values just like they were. I did not make that decision. The board of assessors made that decision, and they made that decision because the state of Georgia was going to come down because it was impossible to keep up with values,” Paris commented.

The Sole Commissioner explained that 48 percent of Union County is owned by National Forest Service, 3 percent is owned by the TVA, and 20 percent is covenant-protected farmland. Additionally, Choestoe, Track Rock, and Suches don’t have access to public water. As a result, massive developments aren’t likely to happen and drive property values up. Without public water, it’s harder for developers to recoup their investments when they must build on 1.5 acres and include a well and septic system.

Paris took questions after the meeting ended on the topic.

As for how Paris operates his monthly meeting, he explained that anyone who believes they have something important to say can be placed on the agenda. Additionally, he said the question-and-answer session isn’t recorded because it doesn’t have to be. However, they do discuss every issue brought up during the Q and A sessions.

2020 city millage rate approved; 2021 budget hearing

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city millage rate

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In the October 2020, Blairsville City Council meeting it approved the 2020 millage rate at 1.895 percent. The rate remains the same as the previous year.

According to the tax digest, the city will receive $899 less in taxes by maintaining the current millage rate.

The council also held the first public hearing and first reading for the 2021 operating budget. The budget is not yet adopted because the second reading and approval still need to occur.

Some departments are receiving an increase in 2021, such as the downtown development authority for salary increases.

Councilmember Mary Ruth Cook asked if the property taxes were down, but City Clerk Kaye McCann explained that the revenue may have slightly decreased due to property reevaluation. However, it wasn’t a large amount.

Blairsville Police Department received approval to hire a part-time officer Josh Owenby. Police Chief Michael “Bear” Baxter explained that while the police department hasn’t fallen victim to COVID-19, the Sheriff’s Office has experienced several positive deputies. With several part-time police officers who also work for the Sheriff, Blairsville Police Department needed to add an extra part-timer to ensure proper staffing for every shift.

The City council also granted approval for trade-ins and purchases of police vehicles. Jacky Jones Chevrolet will receive one Tahoe trade-in for a new 2021 model if the mileage is 12,000 or less.  The second car for car trade-in will go to Ware Chevrolet. Finally, the city is buying a new Ford Explorer for $32,103 from King Ford and trading-in a 2014 Dodge Charger. King will give the city $7,800 for the trade, so the total price for the new Explorer will be $24,303. Price is the main reason behind the purchase of the Explorer. A new car will be traded every year without any extra expenses.

All cars will be outfitted to meet police vehicle safety standards.

“It’s the same thing that we’ve done with the Tahoe year after year,” explained Chief Baxter, “It’s a win-win for the city and money-wise, we don’t have to spend anything other than fuel every year.”

Leachate-opposition representative Steve Herbst presented his petition to stop all future dumping of the chemical cocktail into Lake Nottely or surrounding waterways. The group would like an ordinance stating the city will never accept Leachate again. Herbst also spoke about developing a stakeholder’s task force made up of members from the Lake Nottely Improvement Association, Friends of Lake Nottely, MountainTrue Watershed, and Nottely Water Authority.

The council tabled Herbst proposal to give time for the city attorney to review the document.

Union County lowers tax increase to 17 percent

News, Press Release
lowers tax increase

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In a called meeting, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris approved dropping the tax increase from 19.98 percent to 17 percent.

“After hearing from constituents at the three public hearings, Union County has decided to reduce the proposed property tax increase to 17%. The school portion of your bill is about two-thirds of the total tax bill meaning that even with the increase from the county, your actual out of pocket property tax increase should only be about 5.8% of your total property tax bill,” Paris explained.

Millage Rate Resolution

The county side of the millage rate is now set at 7.178 mills, not the 7.361 mills that was approved in the August 27 called meeting.

The commissioner also detailed all the reasons behind the proposed increase.

  1.  “We have mostly been in the top three lowest mil rates in Georgia out of 159 counties since I have been in office.  In trying to help the public with low taxes and provide the best facilities and services possible, this very low rate is just not sustainable any longer.
  2. Increase of salaries for Sheriff and Jail deputies in order to maintain staff and not lose them to other counties.
  3. In order to keep property taxes low, we have had to utilize the reserve funds to help balance the budget and need to replenish them.
  4. Our medical insurance rates have increased each year with 2018 increasing $750,000 which we are still trying to make up for and are going up $100,000 next year.
  5. We are being required to have all property reevaluated in the county by next year and the cost is $380,000.
  6. Our commitment to a new gun range that has been in the works for nearly 5 years will be approximately $500,000 and it is too late to change. Thanks to the sheriff, 75% will be paid by grant funding.
  7. The State of Georgia has cut its budget 15% which is estimated to impact the county library, drug court, health dept by approximately $70,000.
  8. Vehicle maintenance and equipment repairs are up $40,000.
  9. Paving (LMIG Funds) from the State DOT will be decreased $104,000.
  10. While the county is being reimbursed for some of the COVID-19 funds, we have no idea what our cost and expense will be in 2021. We are just holding our breath with the huge amount of new infection we are now experiencing in the county and not sure what the future holds.

Thanks for your understanding as we are all working very hard to keep our budget as low as possible and we will all continue that process.  Thank you!!”

The board of education maintained it’s millage rate at 11.74 mills, which was lower than the rollback rate.

Union County Board of Education lowers tax rate

Community, News, Panther's Corner
lower tax rate

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In an 8 a.m. called meeting, Union County Board of Education unanimously voted to leave the millage rate at 11.74 mills for the 2021 fiscal year. By leaving the millage rate alone, the board effectively lowered property taxes by not accepting the advised rollback rate of 11.76 mills.

In other words, the school’s portion of property taxes will not be going up. They will be staying the same, and revenue will decrease slightly. The total decrease is .02 mills or .17 percent. One mill represents a tax liability of one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value.

“We’ve chosen given the situation many of our residents are in to leave it at 11.74, which does show as a slight tax decrease from the Board of Education,” explained Superintendent John Hill. “We appreciate the board’s supporting us on that and rolling back taxes a little bit for our taxpayers.”

In Georgia, the state calculates a rollback rate to ensure that the county or school receives the same amount of revenue as the previous year’s digest if no reassessments occurred.

If a county or school board decides to raise the millage rate higher than its rollback/ increase property taxes, officials must hold three public hearings, issue a press release, and place a notice in the county’s legal organ. Local government is currently undergoing that process.

Union County Schools make up two-thirds of overall property taxes. The county represents one-third. Now that the school has officially announced and approved its millage rate, the commissioner must establish the county’s overall millage rate.

On August 27 at 6:30 p.m., Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris will officially set the millage rate. Residents can expect a property tax increase of 6.8 percent because of the county’s decision to raise its millage rate by 1.226 mills or 19.98 percent.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMcZxviqnwI&feature=youtu.be

Financial strain reason behind 19.98 percent tax increase

News
union tax increase public hearing

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – On Thursday, August 20, Union County Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris held two of three public hearings concerning a proposed property tax increase. In each meeting, the commissioner echoed the necessity to raise taxes to combat rising costs and maintain services. 

**EDIT*** After the three public hearings, Commissioner Paris decided to lower the tax increase from 19.98 percent to 17 percent. This article was published a week prior to the final hearing.

Each hearing took place in a packed, socially distanced courtroom with a total of roughly 50 uneasy citizens looking for answers about the sudden increase to their taxes.

“I have dedicated the past 20 years to making Union County a place we can all be proud to call home,” Commissioner Paris stated, “Very few times have I had to increase the property taxes. It gives me a sick pain to my stomach, and I had rather do anything than raise property taxes.”

The proposed increase is necessary to balance the county budget in 2021. Previously, Paris has striven to keep Union County’s millage rate one of the lowest in the state.

“We’ve been just about straight flat for four or five years, and now we’ve got this blip to try to catch up. I’ve tried to keep your taxes so low for so long that I’ve really overdone it,” Paris stated.

The county-portion of millage rate will increase by 1.226 mills or 19.98 percent over the rollback rate. A tax rate of one mill represents a tax liability of one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value.

2020 Notice of Property Tax Increase

The entire millage rate includes rates set by county and board of education. In Union County, the board of education makes up two-thirds of the complete rate, and the county is just one-third. The board of education has announced intentions to maintain the same rate as last year. As a result, Union County citizens should see an approximate increase of 6.8 percent to their yearly property tax bill in September.

The proposed tax increase for a year for a home with a fair market value of $100,000 is approximately $46.25. The proposed tax increase for a year for non-homestead property with a fair market value of $200,000 is roughly $97.36. For example, if a person had a tax bill of $900 with the increase, it would go up to $961, in other words, around $2.60 a day.

The state of Georgia calculates taxes the following way: 

“How to Figure Tax: The assessed value (40 percent of the fair market value) of a house worth $100,000 is $40,000. In a county where the millage rate is 25 mills, the property tax on that house would be $1,000; $25 for every $1,000 of assessed value or $25 multiplied by 40 is $1,000.”

With the proposed increase, the millage rate will be 7.361 mills. Without the tentative tax increase, the millage rate will be no more than 6.135 mills. As it stands, it no other Georgia counties raise their rates, Union County will move from the third lowest to the 11th lowest in the state.

The millage rate in 2006 was 6.65. The overall increase since then was .7 mills, and it was the highest rate in Union County until now. It has fluctuated up and down in that time.

The 10 a.m. meeting lasted over an hour and a half.

Union County does try to keep property taxes equally allocated between salaries and operating expenses at an almost 50/50 ratio. However, the property tax revenue for 2020 was short, nearly $1 million due to increased costs and state budget cuts.

2020 Current Tax Digest and 5 Year History

In the past, property values increased enough to pay the extra funds needed to cover county expenses. The county is in the middle of a property reassessment, which might put the county in a position to lower the millage rate in 2021. Once homes and real estate receive new appraised values, it should improve the budget digest. Additionally, the revaluation won’t necessarily result in property values increase. Some will receive at a higher reassessment, and others won’t.  

“The problem: By working so hard over the past four years to keep our taxes as some of the five lowest [in Georgia’s in 159 counties,] I have strained our budget. At the same time, the prices of almost everything we use has increased. The state of Georgia cut budgets last year, and this year, in most cases, by 15 percent. The cuts mean the county will have to pick up several of those increases,” Paris explained to the crowded courtroom.

Impact to the Budget

Areas of county government and services that will be impacted by state budget cuts are the library, health department, and court system. These departments cost around $70,000 for the county to run. The full impact of the state budget cuts remains unclear. 

The state also cut the road department’s local maintenance and improvement grant (LMIG), which goes toward road improvements by $104,000. The county also has to budget for a 20 percent match to receive this grant.

To help everyone understand how property taxes are levied, appraised, and collect, a short video from ACCG played to the audience.

Without the proposed increase, the county would have to let go of 35 employees. Currently, a total of 160 employees work for the county.

Paris added that they need “this cushion to fall back on in 2021,” and operating budgets will undergo cuts in every area possible.

Additionally, employees’ medical insurance continues to sky-rocket. The sheriff office, including deputies and jailers, have received pay increases to keep the staff in Union County. The pay increases must be kept competitive with other counties in the area. However, Paris praised Sheriff Mack Mason for keeping expenses down in other areas, such as jail board fees.

Areas of increased expenses in 2020

  • Health care costs – up by $100,000 (two years ago up by $700,000*)
  • Vehicle and equipment repairs – up by $20,000
  • Repairs and maintenance – up by $22,000
  • Property and vehicle insurance – up by $25,000
  • Vehicle purchases – up by $40,000

*The $700,000 increase in health insurance from two years ago marked the start of some financial issues. 

Another expense the county must budget for is the new gun range going up on Hwy. 180. The proposed cost is around $2 million. However, if built to Department of Natural Resources (DNR) specifications, the government organization should reimburse the county, up to 75 percent.

Turnout for the 5 p.m. public hearing, which was followed by the 6 p.m. county meeting.

Perhaps, one of the biggest reasons for the property tax increase is to replenish and protect the fund balance. Currently, Union County has one and a half months in reserves. GASB directs counties to keep two to five months of operating expenses in reserves.

 

 

“I am very sorry; we simply have no choice. If we let our reserve funds get any lower, it will negatively impact our county credit rating. [It] could create real problems, in the future, if emergency funds were ever needed to be borrowed,” Paris added.

During the public hearing, several concerned citizens raised questions about the recent purchases of the Hill Property for a little less than $750,000 and the Old Shoe Factory for $800,000.

Commissioner Paris explained that the Old Shoe Factory was purchased using SPLOST funds, and the county previously budgeted for the Hill Property. Neither, according to Paris, was a factor in the property tax increase.

At the end of the day, the county continues to be in good financial health, but it must take measures in 2020 to maintain it’s good standing for future generations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISN62XSTfkc

Union County announces public hearings for millage rate

Community, News
public hearings millage rate courthouse Qualifying meetings state of emergency property

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga –  Union County will be holding three public hearings concerning the tentative 2021 millage rate at the courthouse on August 20.

“All concerned citizens are invited to the public hearings on the tentatively adopted millage rate.

– Thursday, Aug 20, 2020 at 10 am.
– Thursday, Aug 20, 2020 at 5:00 pm.
– Thursday, Aug 20, 2020 at 6:00 pm.

The millage rate will be set in a Called Meeting on Thursday, August 27, 2020, at 6:30 pm at the Union County Courthouse.

According to Georgia law, if a tax authority decides to not adopt the calculated rollback rate, officials must tentatively adopt their proposed rate.  Even if the millage rate that they plan to adopt is unchanged from last year, three public hearings must be held because it’s considered a tax increase by the state.

Once the three hearings take place with public input on the proposed tax rate and resulting tax revenue, commissioners can officially adopt the tentative rate.

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