Hinesville will join the Liberty County Development Authority and Hospital Authority in hosting three public hearings next week about a proposed tax increase, even though the city’s millage rate is tentatively set to stay at 9.5 mills.
While the city is not actually raising the millage, it will get a more revenue than last year because of increased property values, making the city required by law to call it a tax increase.
Kimberly Thomas, the city’s chief financial officer, explained if assessed value of property increases, the government is required to roll back the millage by a rate equivalent to the assessed value increase.
Taxes will not go down because the city decided not to increase the millage and they did not roll it back by the inflated growth amount.
“You can keep your millage rate level, but if you don’t roll back the millage rate by that equivalent amount then you have advertise a tax increase,” Thomas said.
Only those whose property value increased will likely see an increase in their tax bills.
“I really don’t think most citizens in Hinesville will really notice a tax increase,” Thomas said.
Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier said while leaders were discussing the budget the intent was not to raise taxes.
Frasier has been on council 21 years and said council tries to be “good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.”
“We are very conscious of the tax issue in Hinesville,” the councilman said. “Unfortunately, there are things that we are mandated (to do) and services we must provide.”
Those required services include water and sewage, which will seek a rate increase in the coming year.
Thomas said the rate increase, the first since November 2005, was needed because of the economy.
“Those prices have increased substantially over the last three years and we’ve been fortunate that we’ve not had to raise our rates, but at this point we do have to raise our rates for that,” Thomas said.
One of the biggest price hits on the water and sewer budget, she said, has been the cost of fuel, which was budgeted at $2.42 per gallon, but actually came out to average over $3 a gallon.
And even with the rate hike, the city does not anticipate surpluses.
“What that means is basically the charges for the service should cover the cost to provide that service,” Thomas said. “No tax dollars would support those funds.”
The fiscal year officially ended Oct. 31 and it will take a couple months to get through paperwork and close the books, but Thomas thinks 2008 went pretty well.
“Some of our revenue items came slightly under budget,” Thomas said. “I think we did a really good job of conservatively projecting a lot of our revenue items.”
Reviewing the budget does not just involve department employees, but also the mayor and council.
“Everybody has the opportunity to see every one of those line items to see what they spent this year,” Thomas said.
“I think when we go through the budgetary process, I probably look at every line item at least five times in each department.”
And, according to Thomas, the finance department puts a lot of effort into preparing budgets, especially this year taking the changing economy into account.
“We don’t just, come Nov. 1, go out and spend money,” Thomas said. “We really do wait and see how it looks like the revenue is coming in before we make some large purchases.”
The hearings are set for 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday and at the council’s next meeting, Nov. 20.