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County sets millage rate, approves Hwy. 144 subdivision
Bryan County New Seal 2016

The Bryan County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night set the 2016 millage rate and approved a subdivision on Highway 144 near Fort McAllister Road that it originally rejected two months ago.

Residents in the cities of Richmond Hill and Pembroke will see very small decreases in the Bryan County portions of their tax bills, while residents in the unincorporated areas of the county will see no change.

The county millage rate for property owners in Pembroke will decrease from 9.15 mills to 9.077 mills, while Richmond Hill residents will see a decrease from 8.15 to 8.032 mills. The unincorporated millage rate will remain at 9.15.

County Administrator Ben Taylor said state law handles millage rates differently depending on whether growth comes from inflationary increases or new construction. In Pembroke and Richmond Hill, the rollback was necessary because even keeping the millage rate the same would have been considered an increase due to higher property values. That also would have triggered a series of public hearings. The rollback will bring in about $60,000 less in revenue for the county.

“It’s considered a backdoor tax increase even though the millage rate would stay the same because the revenue would go up,” Taylor said.

While the millage rate for the unincorporated portion of the county will remain the same, it will bring in more revenue due to the amount of new growth.

“The state doesn’t consider that a tax increase though because the county is expected to provide services for all of the new growth,” Taylor said. “We still have to provide fire protection and ambulance runs and road maintenance.”

The county will receive about $630,000 more in tax revenue compared to the 2015 millage rates.

Barring any other exemptions, the millage rates mean a homeowner with a $250,000 house ($100,000 taxable value) under the new millage rates will pay county taxes of $907 in Pembroke and $803 in Richmond Hill, compared to $915 and $815 under the previous rates. The amount is lower in the city of Richmond Hill because the county provides fewer services there. Homeowners under the same scenario in the unincorporated portion of the county will continue to pay $915 in county taxes.

Commissioners also voted 4-0 to approve a Planned Unit Development on Highway 144 across from Fort McAllister Road that was defeated 3-2 at the June meeting. Commissioners originally rejected the subdivision, to be built by Lamar Smith Homes, over concerns about lot sizes. Smith had sought to have the property rezoned in order to add five additional lots. Commissioner Rick Gardner was not able to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

“This is a quality development that Bryan County can use as a template moving forward,” Eric Greenway, the county’s planning director. “It has some very unique concepts.”

None of the lots in the development will encroach on surrounding wetlands or flood plains, meaning it will lower the county’s overall flood insurance rating system. Trees larger than 24 inches in diameter that are outside of building pads and more than 10 feet removed from road rights of way will be preserved and no house will have a vinyl exterior.

The county Planning and Zoning Commission and staff recommended approval of the rezoning request in June before commissioners voted it down. Commissioner Steve Myers, who made the original motion in June to reject the request, made a motion at the July meeting to reconsider, saying he should have asked to table the issue in June for more discussion.

“I want to commend the commissioners for coming back to this,” Smith said. “Eric has been very open-minded in helping us find a better way to do this and I’m very impressed with your staff.”

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