Planning for a small property tax increase, the Walker County Board of Commissioners held the first of three legally-required meetings Thursday -- a short gathering that explained the millage rate taxing formula, described as "confusing."
The proposed millage rate of 7.200 mills in the unincorporated area of Walker County represents a reduction from the 8.313 mills rate of 2021. In the incorporated areas of the county, the proposed rate of 10.293 mills represents a decrease from last year's rate of 11.963 mills, according to a news release from Walker County.
"But as you all well know, many of your home values, property values, have gone up, and so if you have an assessed value that went up, what this is doing is pulling down the tax rate to offset some of that inflationary growth," Shannon Whitfield, Board of Commissioners chairman, said at the meeting.
Property values have increased 25% this year, according to Terry Gilreath, Walker County's chief appraiser, in a county news release. He also said the Walker County Assessors Office reviewed nearly 4,000 sales transactions last year, when the number is usually 1,500 deeds annually.
The proposed millage rate would result in a property tax increase of approximately $34.92 in the county's unincorporated area for a home with a fair market value of $225,000, and $34.58 in the incorporated areas.
This meeting and all Walker County Board of Commissioners meetings are available for viewing on the county's website and Facebook page. The county's proposed $31.6 million budget for fiscal year 2023 is also available online.
The 2023 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
"I do know this does get very confusing because this is not something like we typically deal with in life," Whitfield said.
Commissioner Mark Askew said Whitfield did a great job explaining the millage rate and wanted to clarify for residents that the board is only in a discussion phase right now. Board members could roll the millage rate lower than what was advertised, but if they want to increase the rate, they will have to start over the process of advertising the rate and meetings.
Fewer than a dozen community members attended Thursday morning's meeting, and one resident testified, asking whether he is in an unincorporated area or a city. There are five cities in Walker County -- Rossville, Lookout Mountain, Chickamauga, LaFayette and part of Fort Oglethorpe.
Whitfield said the board has tried to keep county government small, but inflation pressures are hitting the budget.
Over the past six years, he said the county's budget has grown by about $803,000 -- and $678,000 of that growth is from this year's budget, he said. Whitfield said the county is adding an 80-cent pay increase for county employees, and 88% percent of the budget increase is personnel costs.
"We've worked real hard over these last six years to try to maintain the growth as low as possible, to not expand government, making government bigger," Whitfield said. "But when we're sitting here in a 9% inflation cycle that we're all in. We're having a hard time maintaining employees, primarily with fire, police and 911."
Walker County had its second millage rate hearing scheduled for Thursday evening. The final meeting, where the budget is expected to be adopted, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 1 at the Walker County Courthouse Annex III, 201 S. Main St., in LaFayette.