County property taxes to rise 15 percent

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By Nick Nunn staff writer

The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) held a public hearing to set the 2015 millage rate at their July 1 regular meeting. At the meeting, County Manager Michael Lamar acknowledged that the county will be increasing the millage rate above the rollback rate of 8.579 mills to keep the millage rate at 9.49 mills, which was also the millage rate adopted for 2014. Lamar said that the state considers adopting a millage rate above the rollback rate, which the county is doing this year, as a tax increase.

“It is an increase,” said Lamar considering the proposed millage rate of 9.49 in relation to the rollback rate, which dropped to 8.579 mills as a result of a “dramatic upturn” in property values. According to the current 2014 tax digest and five-year history of levy, the gross tax digest countywide increased from more than $794,000,000 in 2013 to $918,000,000 in 2014. The 2014 tax digest and five-year history of levy also says that the county will receive a net increase in taxes of approximately $994,000 – a 15.25 percent increase – as a result of leaving the millage rate at 9.49 mills. Lamar stated that he felt that retaining the millage rate of 9.49 mills is a “fair and equitable way to balance the budget” for fiscal year (FY) 2015. John McMahan, county resident and member of the Planning Commission, said that he felt that reports concerning the millage rate have been “confusing,” saying that it is “not necessarily true” that an individual’s taxes are going up because of the county not taking the rollback rate.

Lamar said that, since the millage rate is staying the same as it was for 2014, any changes in a person’s taxes will be directly related to changes in their property values. Commissioner Ron Milton said that the BOC kept the same millage rate instead of adopting the rollback rate when property values were dropping a few years ago, which resulted in a decrease in taxes for citizens. Lamar added that the county cut services during those times in order to assure that there would be no tax increases for the citizens of the county while their property values were dropping.

Morgan County Finance Director Lori Sayer said that keeping the same millage rate while property values were dropping in previous years diminished an “extremely high” fund balance to the point where it is coming close to the 15 percent minimum recommended. She added that, because of the county maintaining a millage rate of 9.49 mills this year, the city will be able to add $60,000 to the fund balance. The BOC will hold their final hearing for the 2015 millage rate at their Tuesday, July 15, work session, which will be held at 5 p.m. at the Buckhead City Hall, 4741 Buckhead Road, Buckhead.

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