Columbia County lowering millage rate slightly

Columbia County officials plan to roll back tax rates to a countywide 6.189 mills, but will still raise an extra $1.3 million from taxes on new development and reassessments in the rapidly growing county.

 

County Administrator Scott Johnson called the rate reduction, advertised July 9, a rarity among area governments.

“We’re probably one of the only governments anywhere around that is doing that,” Johnson said.

The county’s tax digest added some $318 million in taxable real estate and personal property last year but lost about $49 million in taxable motor vehicles due to changes in state tax laws. The net taxable digest now stands at just over $5 billion.

The new tax rate will result in a total of $31 million in property taxes levied by Columbia County government, up from about $30 million last year. Since 2012, county taxes levied have risen 15 percent, as the population has grown 11 percent, to 147,450, according to Census Bureau estimates.

The mill rate is applied per $1,000 of a property’s taxable value, which is 40 percent of its assessed value.

On average, the new rate will add 50 cents or so to a homeowner’s monthly mortgage payment, Deputy Administrator Matt Schlacter said.

Johnson said the county will likely use the additional $1.3 million to shore up fire protection by shifting the .16 reduction over to the fire protection millage, a separate rate charged for fire protection in unincorporated Columbia County.

The increase will help maintain the county’s fire insurance rating of one, which is currently countywide the best available, by paying for new staff and equipment at Columbia’s 16 manned stations, he said.

Or, the Columbia County Commission could opt to use the funds for road construction, debt service or even return it to taxpayers, Johnson said.

Other Columbia County governments including Grovetown and Harlem are not lowering tax rates. Columbia County Board of Education is raising tax rates by almost half a mill to 18.3 mills, with an annual impact of $39.44 on the tax bill of a homesteaded home worth $200,000.

The increase, which is requiring a series of public hearings, will generate about $4.5 million for the growing school system.

Richmond County Board of Education voted Tuesday to approve a tentative millage rate of 19.736 mills, a decrease of .018 mills from last year.

While Augusta-Richmond County officials have described modest growth in the tax digest, the final numbers on which the school system tax rate is based have not been released.

The Augusta Commission has not yet announced its millage rates but would have to hold three public hearings, including two spaced a week apart, over the next few weeks if the commission intends to raise the millage rate.

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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