City Manager Billy Edwards said a news release issued by the city in accordance with Georgia law and printed in the Courier’s Oct. 30 issue has created a lot of unnecessary concern and negative comments.
“There’s a great deal of confusion out there,” Edwards said. “We’re not proposing a tax hike. The millage rate is still 10.5 mills.”
He added that 10.5 mills is the same rate as last year and less than it was 10 years ago.
Edwards, Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Ryon and public-relations manager Krystal Hart talked Monday afternoon about the public’s strong reaction to the release that the trio said the city had to submit in accordance with state law. Edwards emphasized the city adopted the fiscal-year 2014 budget without a proposed property-tax millage-rate increase.
He said unless a resident’s property value has increased as a result of a reassessment by the county tax assessor’s office or due to additions to the home, the property tax will be no more than last year.
“Actually, the total residential values decreased some from last year,” Edwards said. “There was (however) an increase in commercial-property values that more than offset the decrease in residential values. ... It’s highly likely that residential property owners will see a decrease in their property taxes. ... Everybody is upset for no reason.”
Ryon said the total property values assessed for 2012 was about $417,487,000. She said it was about in $415,470,000 for 2013, which is a taxable decrease of about half a percent. Ryon said if a resident’s property was assessed at an increased or decreased value, the owner would have received a notice this past spring.
Edwards said the confusion stems from what he called a “quirk” in the state law, which requires local governments to publish the tax notice in the local newspaper. This notice is required by the state, even if the local government is not changing the millage rate, he said.
He said the state requires the notice if there is any increase in the tax digests that result from inflationary growth (reassessment of property values), and if the local government is not going to reduce the millage rate enough to offset the additional revenue created by the inflationary growth.
The language of the notice is specified by the state and cannot be altered, he said. He said this required language is misleading and causing a lot of misunderstanding.
“The state dictates to us what we have to do and say,” Edwards said. “That includes the number and times of public hearings and the exact wording of the notice. For example, the notice is called ‘Notice of Property Tax Increase,’ and yet there is no increase. It also says, ‘This tentative increase will result in a millage rate of 10.50 mills, an increase of 0.354 mills,’ which is simply not true. It was already 10.5 mills. There is no tax increase.”
Hart said the city will hold three required public meetings on the tax rate, with the first meeting at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, in city-council chambers. The second public meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday. The third public hearing will be during the Nov. 21 city-council meeting at 3 p.m., she said.
Edwards said he hopes that by the second public meeting, Hinesville residents will begin to understand they’re not going to see a property-tax increase and will stop “beating up” on city officials.