Editor’s note: Hinesville City Manager Ken Howard obliged the Courier when asked for a response to a previous letter to the editor. The author of that letter had concerns about the millage rate and property taxes. Howard’s detailed explanation follows.
Taxes can be complicated and no one enjoys paying them, but as long as the City of Hinesville is a place where you can live, work and play, having dedicated dollars for general operations and capital improvements is not only in the best interest of us all, but just necessary. This letter is to help clear up some misinformation and misconception throughout the community regarding taxes in Hinesville.
What is millage?
Millage is a relatively obscure term that represents the tax rate levied on real estate or other property. A mill is one thousandth of a dollar, or one tenth of one cent.
What is a millage rate?
The millage rate is the number of dollars of tax assessed for each $1,000 of property value. The City of Hinesville’s millage rate is 10.75. This means that $10.75 in tax is levied on every $1,000 in assessed property value.
The rate set by the mayor and city council is just a piece of the total millage rate that you pay, which is currently 46.116. Liberty County, the board of education, the hospital authority and the development authority also set a rate that contributes to the total rate.
Why are taxes so high in Hinesville?
When you look at neighboring cities such as the city of Savannah, which has a millage rate of 12.48, Hinesville’s rate is considered low. In fact, our millage rate now is lower than it was in 1997 and it has been lowered a total of .76 mills over the course of the last two years.
However, the determination of tax cost is more about the digest values than the millage rate. A property tax digest is an ad valorem tax levy on the value of property that the owner of the property is required to pay to a government in which the property is situated.
The value of a piece of property is determined by the Tax Assessor’s Office. Many factors go into determining property value, including the size of the county that the property is in and the type of property itself. A high digest means a lower millage rate because property value is more. Vice versa, a low digest mean a higher millage rate because the property value is less. Hinesville has a lower tax digest than Savannah, therefore, our millage rates cannot be compared apples to apples. For example, a 2,600-square-foot house in Hinesville is going to cost less than the exact same 2,600-square-foot house in Savannah. In Hinesville, you get more house for your buck.
Does the city’s budget impact the millage rate?
In part, yes. The city’s budget is the money that we spend to manage and operate the city. Our budget process is very detailed and the budget gets looked at a minimum (often more than) of five times before it goes before city council to be adopted. It is also a detailed, line-item budget, meaning that citizens know exactly where every cent is going. A strict purchase order/requisition system is used to ensure that the money is being spent in the way it was intended.
To learn more about city taxes and spending, please look at the PAFR (Popular Annual Finance Report) that is put out annually by our finance department. It does a great job at breaking down these topics for our citizens so that as a city, we can remain as transparent as possible.
As always, stay informed and feel free to contact me if you ever have any questions or concerns.