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Hearings on tax increases start today

Even though millage rates aren’t going up, public hearings on what likely will be tax increases for property owners across Bryan County get under way today in Pembroke, Richmond Hill and at the Bryan County Board of Education.

The good news is the increases may be at least partially offset by Gov. Brian Kemp’s use of last year’s state budget surplus to provide property tax rebates, which are expected to average roughly $400 per property owner in Bryan County.

But the hearings, details of which are advertised inside this newspaper, are just the latest and most public step in a complex and sometimes confusing process by which property taxes are calculated in Georgia.

Still, for most property owners it simply boils down to two things: 40 percent of the assessed fair market value of their property and millage rates, which are determined by local taxing authorities.

Also factored in are various exemptions, and Bryan County has one of the most generous homestead exemptions for seniors in the state. And, finally, the tax digest comes into play by determining what millage rate governments set.

Inflationary growth, such as soaring home or land prices, obviously increases the value of the tax digest, which is the dollar value of all the property on the books in a county. It also increases the worth of a mill.

And here’s where it can get complicated. Also factored in is new growth, a new factory, for example, or improvements such as adding a dock to a home.

A mill is one 1,000th of a dollar, per $1 of assessed property value. Once local governments know what the mill is worth, then they set their millage rates based on what revenue they need to operate.

Back to the hearings. Local governments which do not roll back their millage rates to account for the increased value of the mill, in essence getting more money for the same tax rate, are required by the Georgia Property Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights, which was signed into law in 2000, to hold public hearings and advertise them as tax increases. That applies to Pembroke, Richmond Hill and the BoE.

The Bryan County Commission, on the other hand, has rolled its millage rate back for several years to account for the increase in the digest. That’s what is known as taking the rollback rate.

Public officials have disputed over the years whether or not keeping the millage rate the same is actually a tax hike.

Local governments also say the increased revenue is necessary to help provide services to a growing constituency caused by the county’s rapid growth. Bryan County was the sixth fastest growing county in the United States, per the 2020 Census, and the fastest growing in Georgia.

Hearings are set in Richmond Hill for 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. today, and again at 6 p.m. Sept. 5 at Richmond Hill City Hall; the School Board will hold hearings at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. today, and again at 9 a.m. Aug. 31, all at the BOE office in Black Creek.

Pembroke will hold hearings at City Hall at 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Aug. 25 and 6 p.m. Aug. 31.

Coming soon: A look at how much a tax bill has gone up in 22 years. And, how much do local governments rely on property taxes.

County’s net digest is going up and up

After a slowdown due at least in part to the 2008 recession, Bryan County’s net tax digest has been going up steadily since 2016, and then kicked into another gear in 2022.

Here’s a look at some numbers to illustrate that point, courtesy Bryan County Chief Assessor Lynn Todd.

2015: Net digest value $1,088,246,854 2016: Net digest value $1,177,245,717 (+8 percent) 2017: Net digest value $1,233,413,754 (+5 percent) 2018: Net digest value $1,273,814,634 (+3 percent) 2019: Net digest value $1,378,112,970 (+8 percent) 2020: Net digest value $1,489,304,503 (+8 percent) 2021: Net digest value $1,607,153,167 (+8 percent) 2022: Net digest value $1,860,496,325 (16 percent) 2023: Net digest value $2,393,149,693 (28.6 percent) Note: The 2023 value is based on preliminary figures. Since 2013 the net digest has gone up 113 percent. The net digest is 40 percent of the value of the property on the digest. Also, it’s important to note the increases are due to a mix of industrial, commercial and residential growth, and new construction as well as inflation.

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