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Millage rate, explained

A millage rate is an amount, per $1,000, used to calulate property taxes. If the millage rate is 8.000, you pay $8 for every $1,000 of all taxable value.

In Georgia, if your house is valued at $100,000, you are usually taxed on $40,000 worth of that property. With a millage rate of 8.000, you would pay $320 in property taxes.

Walker County officials announced a property tax decrease Thursday. They did not, however, fill in all the blanks.

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Bebe Heiskell plans to run for her fifth term as Walker County commissioner in November, but this time as an independent. Of the Republican Party, which has historically backed her, she said previously, "I haven't had a whole lot of luck with them. They want a more radically conservative candidate than I am."

Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said in a press release that in October she will decrease the county's millage rate, which is a measurement of property taxes. She did not say how much the rate is going to drop, but she expects it to be "almost a mill." The county's current millage rate is 8.592.

This rate — whatever it turns out to be — is only half the equation.

To figure out how much you will pay the county in property taxes, you must also know your specific property value. The county sent out notices last month, explaining what residents' values will be for the new fiscal year.

But overall, it's unclear how much property values have increased throughout the county, meaning it's hard to know how much property tax revenue the county expects to get. If the county drops the property tax rate but increases the total value of property in its jurisdiction, for example, the county could actually bring in more tax revenue.

Before this year, Heiskell said, county employees had not reevaluated residential properties in 12 years. They also had not re-evaluated commercial properties in 18 years.

Because they didn't do that for so long, the property values are expected to dramatically jump this year.

Last month, the Walker County Board of Education announced that property values within its jurisdiction increased by about $53 million from last year to this year. From 2011-15, those property values only changed by $1.7 million.

Traditionally, the value for the whole county is greater than the value within the school board's jurisdiction because the school board doesn't cover Chickamauga.

So, given the tax rate decrease, how has the property value changed in the county? Heiskell did not return a call seeking comment. Neither did Chief Appraiser Terry Gilreath or Resource Coordinator Larry Brooks. Finance Officer Gregory McConnell did not return an email asking the same question.

Tax Commissioner Carolyn Walker said she won't know how the property values have changed until Heiskell officially sets the tax rate.

"I'm the caboose," she said. "I get all the information last."

It's also possible Heiskell's tax rate decrease goes beyond the potential rollback that would accompany a property value hike. For example, if property values go up 10 percent, the county could drop the tax rate by 10 percent and get the same amount of revenue it did the year before.

Heiskell's tax rate drop might be going beyond that, but she did not clarify that in her release. She did say she hoped her announcement would assuage fears raised about a month ago, when residents first got their new property values.

In a bill, the county announced what residents' taxes would be if Heiskell maintained the same tax rate. With many values jumping, residents complained on social media that their bills were going to be unreasonably high.

"While the county budget can always use increased revenue," Heiskell said in the release, "the increases on property owners as reflected by the re-evaluation notices is unrealistic."

Perry Lamb, who is running against Heiskell in the commissioner's race, said he wants to see how the property values have changed before judging Heiskell's announcement.

"I would hope that Ms. Heiskell will take a real close look at this and understand that the people don't have a lot of money," he said. "Even if she's not technically raising the rates, if the property values go up, the taxes will go up."

Shannon Whitfield, who is also running for commissioner, said the potential drop in property tax revenue needs to come with a cut in the county budget. Heiskell has not announced details of her budget yet.

"Bebe has not been able to balance her budget for the last several years, without having to borrow money halfway through the year," he said in an email. "So does this mean she is now willing to reduce expenses to finally have a balanced budget, or will she just keep borrowing money to keep up her pet projects?

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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