Property taxes in consolidated Augusta-Richmond County appear among the state’s lowest, with a countywide maintenance and operations levy of just 8.042 mills, lower than nearly any populous Georgia county save for neighboring Columbia.
For a homebuyer making an informed decision, however, the reality of Richmond County property taxes is a lot more complicated, with rates that vary by address and bills enlarged substantially by Richmond County Board of Education, which has set a millage of 19.982 for school operations.
Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell asked commission members to make the comparison last week, when he pitched the idea of a small tax increase to fill a 2014 budget shortfall.
The millage is the amount levied against each $1,000 of a property’s taxable value, which in Georgia is 40 percent of a property’s fair market value.
No Augusta taxpayer pays only 8.042 mills. Add the school board millage, a 0.781 county capital outlay millage and a 0.15 statewide millage to get 28.955 mills, the lowest rate any property owner will pay unless disabled, over 65, and exempt from school taxes or eligible for other discounts.
On a primary residence valued at $100,000, that’s a $1,013 tax bill.
Outside the pre-consolidation Augusta city limits, add a 2.14-mill charge for fire protection – except in Hephzibah, which has a small fire department. Inside the old city limits it becomes even more complicated, as property owners are billed a separate Urban Services District mill rate – 17.775 mills – which is then discounted by a 9.788 “urban sales tax credit.” The credit and a countywide sales tax credit of 5.983 mills are funded by Augusta’s local option sales tax.
Despite the consolidation of the city and county governments in 1996, property owners in the old city limits pay a higher total millage rate – 36.942 mills, plus an extra $115.50 to fund part of their garbage service – versus owners outside the old boundaries, who pay 31.095 mills plus $310.50 for garbage.
Still, either rate places Augusta below Savannah, Macon, Albany and Atlanta, where homeowners pay from 38.2 mills, in Savannah, to 54 mills or more, in the Atlanta portion of Dekalb County.
Taxed at lower rates are homeowners in neighboring unincorporated Columbia County, where school taxes of 18.59 mills and county taxes of 8.38 mills add up to 26.97 mills. Grovetown adds an additional 7 mills, so a Grovetown homeowner could pay a higher tax rate than one in Hephzibah.
Among the state’s consolidated governments, Athens-Clarke pays 33.7 mills, thanks to a 20-mill school levy. Columbus-Muscogee, about the same size as Augusta-Richmond, pays 40.3 mills, a point Russell raised on Tuesday.
When it consolidates in January, new Macon-Bibb officials will eliminate the city (9.7 mills) and county (12.03 mills) rates and replace them with a new countywide rate, likely somewhere in between, according to city spokesman Chris Floore.
Commissioners remain divided on the issue with several – Wayne Guilfoyle, Donnie Smith, Joe Jackson – opposed to any property tax increase and others – Corey Johnson, Bill Lockett, Bill Fennoy – who have said it’s the only way to perform the services residents demand.
The commission will revisit the issue at a 3 p.m. work session today.