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County Holds Public Millage Rate Hearings

News Editor

The Dade County Board of Commissioners held its first two public hearings regarding this year’s millage rate on August 10. The third public hearing will be August 17 at 5 p.m. with a special called hearing to vote on the millage rate immediately following at 5:30 p.m.

As a reminder, the approved fiscal year 2024 budget is $14.5 million, the proposed unincorporated millage rate is 8.0000 (the same as the previous two years), and the proposed incorporated millage rate is 10.2190 (a decrease from last year’s 10.5535).

At both hearings, Don Townsend (chief financial officer and county clerk) explained that the public hearings are required because even though the millage rates are staying the same and decreasing, they will result in more revenue than the previous year. Set through a state formula, rollback rates calculate what millage rate is needed to provide the same income as the previous year’s budget, and when implementing a millage rate higher than the rollback rate, counties must follow the public hearing procedures. With this year’s budget being just over $1 million higher than last year’s, the rollback rate would not fund the budget.

The unincorporated rollback rate is 7.358, while the incorporated rollback rate is 9.555

During both hearings, County Executive Ted Rumley said that they have looked at random examples throughout the county to determine various property owners’ tax bills. He said that the majority have stayed the same as last year’s or even decreased.

During the 11 a.m. meeting, the Sentinel asked how this is possible when many property assessments have increased. Rumley and Townsend explained that homestead exemptions and this year’s one-time Property Tax Relief Grant (proposed by Governor Brian Kemp and automatically added to every existing homestead exemption) result in the same or lower tax bills. Additionally, the school board’s proposed millage rate is 0.2000 lower than last year’s.

Townsend said, “Theoretically, if [someone’s property values] stayed the same, [the tax bill] could potentially go down, it should go down. If the value changed [because] they put in a swimming pool or something, [the tax bill] will go up.”

Townsend noted in the second hearing that nearly every property owner is eligible for the homestead exemption, regardless of age.

During the first hearing, Townsend explained that a world without exemptions would naturally result in a lower millage rate. Also, no Local Option Sales Tax or insurance premium tax would result in a much higher millage rate. The insurance premium tax is collected by the state and distributed according to census numbers. Townsend stressed the need for an accurate census, noting that Dade County has appealed its census numbers, believing them to be too low.

Paula Duvall (tax assessor) explained that the increase in the digest (the total taxable amount) was due to many variables. “We did increase the dollar per square foot on residences. Of course, any new construction is going to add to the digest. What we’re seeing as far as a difference in the digest is what we consider growth…We did increase commercial properties this year too.” She reported a roughly 15% increase across the board.

Robert Goff (District 3 commissioner) asked Duvall for the number of new homes in the county. She reported that number at the second hearing: 117 new homes were constructed/started in 2022.

Lamar Lowery (District 1 commissioner) explained that much of the budget is due to state or federally mandated services, (for example, feeding and housing inmates at the jail). He further explained, “The stuff we’re not obligated to do, people are expecting it as a service, and we’re trying to do it as cheap as we can.” He cited road paving and operating the transfer station as two notable expenses.

At $5,932,700, the court system and law enforcement makes up 41% of the budget, implying that a decrease in crime would benefit taxpayers. An additional $1,867,000 for emergency services (including volunteer fire departments) makes up 13% of the budget, meaning that over half of the budget is allocated to first responders, emergencies, law enforcement, and judicial services.

Also during the 11 a.m. hearing, the Sentinel asked about Walker County and Catoosa County’s decisions to use the rollback rate, asking the commissioners how they thought our neighboring counties were able to do this.

Townsend replied, “Their values greatly increased. They’re still collecting more. That’s why they’re having public hearings…If you look at their five-year histories, you’ll see that their rate, their value is much higher than it was last year. They did roll theirs back, but they’re collecting a whole lot more than they did last year compared to us.”

During the second hearing, Lowery added, “I’ve heard people say we need to run [the county] like a business, run it like you do at home. But at home or at a business, you’re not mandated to do stuff. If something’s not making money, you can just quit making that product. [Some people] have said y’all don’t have to mow the right-of-ways as often as you do, but we still have a liability there if we don’t keep our right-of-ways mowed and somebody has a wreck.”

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