Few things are more despised by homeowners than property taxes, or more dreaded by public officials who have to explain why they’re going up.
An attempt at the latter will again take place Thursday, when Bryan County Commissioners hold their third and final public hearing on a proposed property tax increase for residents of Richmond Hill. It’s set for 6 p.m. Thursday at the South Bryan Administrative Complex and a crowd is expected.
It’s important to note there’s been some disagreement over the timing of the city’s announcement, which caught city officials off guard, and the location of the first two hearings at the county seat in Pembroke.
But Bryan County officials say this is more about fair taxes than a tax hike. The proposal just happens to result in a millage rate increase for Richmond Hill residents.
On the surface, it seems simple enough.
Richmond Hill residents currently pay 7.9 mills. Every other property owner in Bryan County pays 9.016 mills. That includes those who live in Pembroke.
Yet all residents, regardless of where in Bryan County they live, get the same “countywide” services, County Administrator Ben Taylor said.
So, under the new plan, everyone will pay the same 8.8 mills for those services. That’s in line with the rest of the state, according to county officials, who said all but five of Georgia’s 159 counties have a single county tax rate because it eliminates “tax inequity.”
County officials also said the state may step in eventually and force counties to implement a single rate.
For now, Bryan County’s proposed 0.937 mill increase for Richmond Hill residents will impact about 37 percent of the county’s population. For someone with a $150,000 home, the county portion of their taxes will go up about $28, according to information provided by Taylor.
Taxes will go down for everyone else – and that includes the owners of some 11,359 pieces of property in unincorporated Bryan County, many of which are in South Bryan. As Taylor and other county officials have been quick to note, the county’s plan is a tax decrease for 67 percent of the population.
Here are some more nuts and bolts on the proposal:
Bryan County has two “revenue streams” for the services it provides residents, according to Taylor. There is countywide revenue, including all property taxes, to pay for services to residents in “the unincorporated areas and the cities within Bryan County without distinction or disparity.”
There are 31 such “countywide” services and include everything from animal control to the sheriff’s department and a lot in between, Taylor said. They include services such as the courts, elections, EMS, E911, the coroner, the UGA extension service, Family Connections, the Health Department and more.
Those services add up to more than $20.9 million in the county’s proposed 2019 budget. All are funded through countywide revenue, which comes from property taxes, motor vehicle taxes, sales taxes and fines, again according to Taylor.
The “countywide services” are distinct from additional services provided only to residents in the unincorporated areas of Bryan County, Taylor said.
So is the funding for those additional services, according to the county. They include fire protection, engineering and inspections, forestry, mosquito control, planning and zoning and solid waste services.
The cost to provide those services adds up to about $4.9 million in the latest budget, and will be paid for through a combination of insurance premium taxes, building permit fees, franchise fees for cable TV providers, solid waste fees and the fire fee.
While it sounds fairly straightforward, the timing of the county’s decision follows Richmond Hill’s annexation of more than 5,000 acres in late 2017, and a recent extension of the service delivery strategy between the county, Richmond Hill and Pembroke due to disagreements over services between Richmond Hill and Bryan County.
It comes at a time when the three entities were set to go into mediation over the service delivery strategy, but apparently haven’t agreed on a mediator.
What’s more, the county’s portion of a resident’s property tax bill is only a portion. Schools assess higher millage rates, and cities also assess taxes. The total is known as the combined millage rate, and it’s the bottom line as far as a tax bill goes.
According to the Development Authority of Bryan County, in 2017 residents of Richmond Hill paid a combined rate of 27.517 mills. Pembroke residents paid 34.411 mills and those who owned property in the unincorporated area of Bryan County paid 24.411.