Where Bryan County ranks among area counties in terms of county wide millage rate, from highest to lowest:
22. Liberty 32.93
57. McIntosh 29.42
61. Chatham 29.21
74. Effingham 28.12
122. Bryan 23.69
131. Glynn 22.65
148. Bulloch 21.09
Highest: Dekalb 40.09
Lowest: Towns 11.06
Source: Georgia Counties Guide, www.georgiastats.uga.edu
There’s an old saying that you can’t keep going to the same well too often.
Well, believe it or not, property owners in Bryan County fund about 70 percent of the cost of local government and that hasn’t changed in years.
Granted, the tax rate here is much lower than it is in most counties in Georgia. That’s not the issue. With a combined millage rate of 23.69 in 2010, the most recent year for which such statistics are readily aviailable, Bryan ranks 123 out of 159 counties.
What’s more, communities and as best we can tell, local governments here do a first-rate job of managing their resources. That’s not the issue, either.
What is at issue is continually asking a small percentage of the population to pay nearly three fourths of the cost of government. And if the number of households continue to increase without a corresponding increase in other forms of tax revenue, expect the cost of maintaining local government to continue to go up as well.
After all, the more folks you have, the more the need for everything from teachers and classroom space to public safety personnel to keep streets, neighborhoods and businesses safe.
In fact, the bigger the population, the more the need for government -- if that population expects services, few if any of which come cheap.
Traditionally, governments have tried to balance property taxes through commerical or industrial growth, and it seems Bryan County is in that regard doing what it can to find suitable additions to this county’s small but growing business base.
Still, there should be ways beyond the traditional tax on homes and businesses to help cover the cost of government. But it’s going to mean some changes in the way we think about SPLOSTs and how they can be used.
Currently, special local option sales taxes can only be used for capitol projects or for things clearly spelled out when a referendum is approved by voters. An effort is currently under way to pass a sales tax for transportation projects. Called the Transportation Investment Act or TSPLOST, it well worth considering as a way to help pay for much needed road improvements across Georgia.
A similar push to allow for penny sales taxes to go toward operating expenses could help lower the burden of the cost of government on homeowners, who in many cases may use fewer government services than those who pay no property taxes at all.
For example, adding a penny to each dollar’s worth of alcohol sold could be applied to help defray the cost of keeping deputies on the streets. Similarly, a local penny sales tax on fuel could go toward funding for traffic signals or a city’s public works department to help pay for maintenance and beautification of roads and ditches.
Allowing hotel and motel taxes to be used for more than just promotion of a community -- for upgrades to business corridors, for example -- is another avenue worth considering. But again, all require a bit of rethinking the way local government is paid for.