Citizens packed the room at this week’s Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting, upset over spikes on property tax assessments mailed out recently across the county.
During almost one hour of input, residents cited concerns with hiked assessments, along with the general lack of clarity surrounding the process. Several others again asked the county to consider providing tax relief for senior citizens.
ASSESSMENTS VS. TAXES
Each year, property across the county is assessed at fair market value. For residential, it is based largely on recent sales in the area. Assessments are mailed out each spring, and those notices include an estimated tax that will be set in the fall. Commission chairman Tom Crow stressed that the estimated tax number listed on that assessment is misleading since the actual millage rates won’t be set until later.
“The estimated tax number that you saw on that form is required by the state. As best I can tell, it serves no purpose except to upset the citizens,” said Crow. “It’s not a real number until we get to our point of setting the budget.”
The county lowered its millage rate this past year and Crow expects the board may do the same again this year.
“We have not calculated, but I can say that it’s going to come down,” he said. “…We will only tax and collect the money that’s needed to carry-out the day-to-day operations of this county.”
COMPLICATED TAX SITUATION
AND SENIOR EXEMPTIONS
Jackson County has a complicated tax situation with three school systems, multiple municipalities and fire district taxes, in addition to the county-wide tax.
Several residents asked the commissioners to consider offering some tax relief to senior citizens. Some residents questioned why the county doesn’t offer a senior exemption on school taxes like some surrounding counties. But Crow noted the county doesn’t have the mix of industrial and commercial to make up the difference.
“Exempting us from that school tax is not fair to the non-seniors because we do not have enough commercial and industrial warehouses to pick up that transfer,” said Crow. “…“Somebody else has to pay that dollar.”
One resident, John Yarbrough, asked the county to consider shifting some of the tax burden from seniors onto large warehouses.
“We need to let these seniors that have lived in this county – many their whole life — let these people enjoy their golden years without having to worry about whether they’re going to be able to pay their property tax,” said Yarbrough.
Crow said one possibility to bring in more from industrial property owners would be to implement an income tax, but that would have to be applied across the board — commercial, industrial and residential.
“And I’m not for that,” Crow said.
AND OTHER CONCERNS
Other residents voiced concerns over the lack of clarity in the assessment process. One resident questioned who holds the board of tax assessors accountable, while another asked the commissioners to intervene on behalf of the community and ask for the assessments to be reconsidered.
“We do not have any control over that office,” Crow said at the beginning of the meeting.
The board of tax assessors is an appointed 5-member group that is trained by the state. The assessment results are audited annually by the Georgia Department of Revenue.
“Each year after the assessors mail out those forms that you just received, the state Department of Revenue comes into our county and they go into that office and they look at the same sales that our people looked at,” Crow said.
If there’s a significant inaccuracy in those numbers, the county is “severely fined,” Crow said.
“It is to our interest that those assessments that’s mailed out be as accurate as possible,” said Crow. “If they’re not, we’re fined.”
Two residents also cited concerns with discrepancies on the assessments including inaccuracies on individual assessments and uniformity when looking at assessments for comparable subdivisions in close proximity. Crow noted there is an appeals process for assessments.
Others were concerned with the general increase in assessment values and the impact it could have on their properties.
“We are concerned that this trend of assessing our homes at these rates will continue to rise unabated and become burdensome causing not only our monthly expenses to increase dramatically due to the significantly higher amounts for escrow, but will also have a negative impact on our ability to attract potential home-buyers should we need to sell our home in the future,” said Mindy Gibbons.
Also at its meeting, the board:
•approved accepting a grant to help fund the Jackson County Drug Court and Piedmont Circuit Veterans Court for FY2022. The local match is $12,603 for the drug court and $10,467 for the veterans court.
•discussed tower and lease agreements to allow construction of towers for the new public safety radio system.
Also discussed at its June 7 meeting that the board could vote on at its June 21 meeting were:
•purchasing a new ambulance, totaling $80,000.
•renewing an intergovernmental agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation to provide inmate detail for maintenance along state highways.
•renewing a capacity agreement with the Georgia Department of Corrections to allow state inmates to be housed at the Jackson County Correctional Institute.
•a mid-year salary adjustment for county employees including a 3% increase for public safety and 2% increase for general government employees. In his report, county manager Kevin Poe said the adjustment would help the county “to keep salaries competitive with the surrounding government jurisdictions and to keep up with wages in the local labor market.” Chairman Crow recommended implementing the adjustment beginning this past April. If approved, the increases would cost $450,000 for the current year.
•a lease from the Jackson County Habitat for Humanity, resulting in $32,784 in revenue for the county annually. Habitat leases a space from the county for its ReStore in Commerce.
•a change order with Magnum Contracting, LLC, for electrical work at Gum Springs Park in West Jackson. Magnum received the contract to complete the first phase of work. The $220,000 change order would allow the company to complete the remaining electrical work.
A public meeting hosted by developers of a massive subdivision in Commerce will be held next week.
Cooke Properties of Gainesville, developers of the proposed residential project on Whitehill School Rd. and Hwy. 441, are hosting the meeting on June 14 at 5:30 p.m. at the Commerce Civic Center.
The proposed project of over 400 homes has sparked controversy in Commerce and drawn pushback from some neighbors at recent planning commission meetings.
Action on the plan has been delayed twice before the city planning board and the design of the project has been changed from its original concept.
The project, named "The Village At Harmony Grove," is the single largest residential community ever proposed in Commerce. The subdivision would cover some 181 acres.
Under the new proposal, developers have reduced the proposed number of townhouses from 200 to 112 and single family homes have been cut from 370 to 327. In addition, a proposed commercial strip along Hwy. 441 has been expanded to allow for more business development and the project's amenity area has been expanded.
Under the new proposal, the community would be built in five phases with the 112 townhouses built first. Those are proposed to have 1,600 sq. ft. with a two-car garage and costing $240,000 and up.
Phase two would be 131 single family homes of 1,800-2,600 sq. ft. costing $300,000 and up.
Phase three would be the community's amenity area, which calls for a pool, clubhouse, two pickleball courts, a community garden, playground, dog park and walking trails.
Phase four would be the remaining 175 single family homes of 2,000-3,200 sq. ft. each priced at $400,000 and up.
Phase five would be the development of 14.5 acres of around 10 commercial businesses.
The design of the homes in the community could become an issue. Some planning commission members have voiced opposition to subdivisions with front-facing garages, a style they say isn't in keeping with the overall Commerce aesthetics. Many of the homes shown in the proposed development's paperwork do have front-facing garages.
The developers also submitted data that says the project's home prices would be higher than other nearby subdivisions and higher than the overall average of homes sold in Commerce over the last 12 months.
Developers also say the project would pay $3 million in building and development fees and $2.4 million per year in property taxes.
The Nicholson City Council gave Jennifer Kesler the green light Monday night to move forward with her plans to open a new special event center.
During a recent public hearing and work session, Kesler outlined plans to build a timber-framed barn on her property at Cabin Creek Dr.
At its June 7 meeting, the council approved a conditional use permit for her property, which is zoned agricultural.
Kesler says she plans to hold weddings and other special events. Her plans are to have an occupancy rate of no more than 100 people. She plans to have events every weekend.
In other business, the council approved an amendment to its charter about salaries for the mayor and council. Attorney Jody Campbell said the move will allow changes to the salary to be done by ordinance.
At this time, no specific amount has been discussed, but if a raise is approved, it will not be implemented until after the next election.
The council also:
•approved a request by the Certified Literacy Program of Jackson County to increase funding from $500 to $900 a year. The reason for the increase is due to the growth in population in the city.
•discussed a bid for a sprinkler system. The council agreed to set aside a time to go over the bid.
•noted that the date for the July meeting needs to be changed. It would have been July 5, but the July 4th holiday will be observed on that day. The new meeting date will be announced at a later time.