No decision yet for Richmond County millage rate

Declines and changes in manufacturing amounted to only about $200,000 less revenue for 2017 but set the stage for upcoming millage rate discussions, Augusta officials said Tuesday.

 

At an Augusta Commission Finance Committee meeting Tuesday, Finance Director Donna Williams said despite two percent growth in taxable real estate, industrial closures and tax abatements brought the digest of taxable properties about $200,000 below the flat-growth figure city officials anticipated.

The commission was at one point scheduled to set the tentative millage rate Tuesday but did not make the decision. The millage rate is applied against property tax values to determine an owner’s tax bill.

Commissioners have said they do not expect to raise the millage rate, and are running out of time to hold the required public hearings to do so. But the lack of growth means they’re unlikely to lower it, either.

Other factors the commission will have to consider include the ongoing effort to rebuild the city’s reserves, which remain depleted since the 2014 ice storm. A recent reimbursement check from FEMA for $2 million helped, but is offset by a recent commission decision to fund a streetlight fee deficit of about $860,000, Williams said.

Local option sales tax collections, which Augusta uses to offset the millage rate for certain services, are currently up $65,000, while franchise fees paid by utilities are down $1.12 million and state court revenue is down $650,000 over last year.

Commissioners questioned Chief Appraiser Alveno Ross about manufacturing’s impact on the digest of taxable property.

The assessors’ office simply applies any incentives offered by the Augusta Economic Development Authority uniformly to properties, Ross said.

“The development authority will sell a bill of goods to gain a company to come into Augusta-Richmond County,” Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said. When news of the new jobs hit the media, “we are put into a corner.”

A recent presentation of Augusta’s comprehensive annual financial report, which was “clean” and had no reportable findings, included a newly-required report on the amount of tax abatements offered to local business and industry. The amount was $3.7 million.

Despite the breaks, the loss of six industries cost the digest $109 million in taxable real and business property, Ross said.

Now at full implementation, a 2012 state exemption on energy used in manufacturing costs Augusta about $4 million a year in sales taxes, Williams said. The city did not replace it with an excise tax, as some governments did.

“We was all lobbied to do that, that business was going to leave, and now business is still leaving,” Commissioner Marion Williams said.

In other business, commission committees deferred action on several items but largely agreed to District Attorney Natalie Paine’s request to add three assistant district attorneys to the department using existing funds. The matter will now go to the full commission for approval.

The additions would bring the district attorney’s office to the level of the Augusta Public Defender, which has three lawyers assigned to each of the three-county circuit’s eight judges, Paine said.

Augusta’s is “one of the only circuits in the state of Georgia where there are more public defenders than ADAs,” Paine said.

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

 

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