Madison County’s school system and county government are keeping their tax rates steady in 2021, but taxpayers could see an increase in this year’s tax bills due to a boost in the assessed value of their properties.

The county school board held its third public hearing Tuesday night on its 2021 millage rate, then unanimously approved its tax rate and fiscal year 2021-22 budget.

Meanwhile, the county commissioners held two public hearings Monday on their tax rates (incorporated — within cities, and unincorporated — outside of cities).

The school board has held its rate at 16.99 mills since 2006. Even though a rate might remain the same, it brings in more revenue for the system if overall county property values (the tax digest) increase in the county, and less if the values drop, which happened after the housing crash in 2008. Values can go up either by new construction (a new home or business being added to the taxable value) or by increases in the assessed value of existing properties.

By keeping the tax rate once again at 16.99 mills, the school system will generate $271,888 more in property taxes in 2021 ($14.15 million) compared to 2020 ($13.88 million), according to the schools’ five-year tax levy history. That’s because the county’s overall digest has increased.

School boards, commissioners and town councils can roll back their mill rates to offset property value gains and keep their tax revenues steady (outside of gains from new construction) from one year to the next. But if values go up and a group opts not to roll back its rate, a governing board, by Georgia law, must announce a tax increase, hold three public hearings, and advertise a mill increase that equals the amount the tax rollback should be to keep revenues steady.

Confused? You’re not alone.

This process often leads to confusion when a governing board doesn’t roll back its tax rate to offset value gains, with citizens often attending hearings to get clarification on why a mill rate increase has been announced, even though the board is saying that’s not actually the case. That was true at school board and commissioners’ meetings this week as both groups fielded questions on the procedures. Ultimately, leaders tell the questioners, that they are required by the state to word their ads this way, even though the rates are the same.

While the school system is done with its tax hearings, the county commissioners will hold another hearing on their mill rates Aug. 2. The board’s five-year tax levy history shows total property taxes levied at $10.59 million in 2021 versus $10.55 million in 2020, a .33 percent increase.

For years, county commissioners rolled back their tax rates to offset value gains, but the county government began to run a regular shortfall, with expenses sometimes outpacing revenues by $1 million in a calendar year.

This annual revenue shortfall finally led commissioners to pass a dramatic corrective action, a 35.88 percent tax increase in 2017 that generated $2.4 million in revenue more than the previous year and allowed the county government to operate with a balanced budget. Since then, the county commissioners have opted not to roll back the rates to offset property value gains.

County commission chairman Todd Higdon said the county budget planning for 2022 is nearing completion and is in good shape. He said projected total county revenues are $19,983,909 with expenses anticipated at $19,230,345.

SCHOOL BUDGET PASSED

Meanwhile, after tentatively passing its budget in June, the school board gave official approval Tuesday to its 2021-22 fiscal year budget, which includes a five-percent pay increase for classified staff such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers and paraprofessionals.

The school system’s expenditures are up in FY 22 by 11.8 percent, or approximately $6 million, from this past year, from $49,967,242 to $55,866,187.

The school system entered last school year with an estimated $6 million balance and will begin the upcoming school year with an estimated $8 million balance, which is about $1.5 million more than the school board anticipated it would have to finish this past year. Looking ahead, the anticipated ending balance for the next school year is $3.47 million. Madison County also anticipates $3.5 million in state and federal grants in the coming year, bringing projected revenues for the upcoming school year to $59.3 million, up from $56.5 million this past year.

Madison County received $36.75 million from the state for the 2020-21 school year. That will increase to $38.17 million in 2021-22, but is still down from the pre-pandemic state allotment of $40.9 million in 2019-20.

The school system is also receiving over $8 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan. The school system must use 20 percent of that money to cover programs assisting students with learning loss due to the pandemic. The schools are studying the best way to use the funds. Assisting the county government with a county broadband system is one possibility.

— More about the BOE’s July monthly meeting will be in the July 29 edition.

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