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Commissioners set tax millage, bills going up
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After completing a third public hearing on tax rates Thursday, Liberty County commissioners enacted an overall tax millage rate of 36.266 which is a 1.30 mill increase from last year.
For residents of unincorporated Liberty County and the cities of Midway, Riceboro, Flemington, Allenhurst, Gum Branch and Walthourville, the raised millage would amount to a $78 per year increase in ad valorem tax on a $150,000 home with no exemptions. In Hinesville the county tax hike on the same home would be $73.
The 2016 tax bill on the home used as an example would have been $807. With the rate increase for 2017 that bill would rise to $885 for 2017.
Hinesville has its own fire department, building inspections, mosquito control and other services. A state law is intended to keep city residents from paying twice for these duplicated services. Under this law there is a .90 mill reduction of county taxes for Hinesville residents since they also pay city tax.
The Liberty County Board of Education reduced its millage levy by .123 but it still accounts for the largest part of ad valorem taxes, 15.666 mills compared to the county’s 14.75.
The county commission sets rates for unincorporated areas, the six smaller cities, the schools and the county tax on Hinesville residents. There are two other taxing jurisdictions in Liberty County: the hospital authority and the development authority.
The hospital authority asked for a hike to 3.85 mills, held the required three public hearings, and the commissioners approved that rate increase. The development authority is bound by the constitutional provision creating it; that measure grants the development authority 2 mills of revenue with no option of increasing or decreasing it.
When Tax Commissioner Virgil Jones heads to the Department of Revenue in Atlanta this week he will be taking not only one packet of tax documents, but also the just-adopted 2017 digest and a revised 2016 digest, showing a multimillion dollar drop in value.
The dramatic reduction in the digest came when the commission and the tax assessors decided to abandon efforts to tax the private leasehold property on Fort Stewart. Although the Army owns the ground on Fort Stewart, a private company, Balfour Beatty doing business as Stewart Hunter LLC, owns and leases many of the housing units. The leaseholds are private property and the assessors valued that private property at $244 million and showed it on the digest.
Balfour Beatty appealed. The assessment amounted to more than six percent of the total taxable property in Liberty County. The appeal prevented state approval of the county’s tax digest.
The county got court permission to carry on the tax process while awaiting resolution of the appeals.
Balfour Beatty is a multinational company, headquartered in England. In 2016 it reported $2.6 billion in revenue in the United States alone. In August the commissioners decided not to pursue the tax appeals, citing the likelihood of long expensive litigation. With Balfour Beatty’s private property exempted, the tax digest dropped by $244 million.
In other business Thursday, the commissioners worked to fill seats on the various boards, authorities and other bodies for which they help name members. Three commissioners serve rotating membership on a three-person panel that screens applications for board appointments. The current screening committee is composed of Commissioners Marion Stevens, Justin Frasier and Connie Thrift.
The screening panel first recommended Charles Frasier as top pick for a Liberty County Development Authority seat but the commission turned that down by a 4-2 vote. The screening committee then named Melissa Carter Ray as its top pick. She is the incumbent in the seat. Besides Ray and Frasier, Maxie Jones had applied for an LCDA seat.
For the hospital authority two incumbents, Coroner Reginald Pierce and Walthourville Mayor Daisy Pray, were top nominees for the two vacant seats. Others seeking the posts were Valya Lee, Jeffery Porter and Maxie Jones.
The screening committee named Joe Ford as its first pick for a seat on the Coastal Area District Development Authority, but some procedural questions arose on CADDA appointments and commissioners will likely revisit the matter at a later meeting. Incumbent Brian Smith and Maxie Jones also applied for the CADDA board seat.

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