TRENTON, Ga. — Amid confusion about whether the Dade County Commission could legally hold a public meeting about a tax hike Thursday evening, almost nobody actually showed up.
When they passed the budget last month, the commissioners decided to take in more money from property taxes this year. The local government is not actually changing the tax rate. But with property values going up, some homeowners will be charged more money, giving the county an additional $380,000.
By law, the commissioners have to hold three public meetings on the issue. They planned to hold two Thursday, then another one July 26 at 5 p.m. in the county administrative office. State law also requires them to advertise the meetings in the local legal organ, the Dade County Sentinel. Also, the ads need to be at least 30 square inches.
Problem? One of three ads published in the July 11 paper was not big enough. The Georgia Department of Revenue gave the county a pass for the mishap, Dade County Clerk Don Townsend said. But in the paper published this Wednesday, another ad was only 8 square inches.
During the county's first tax hike meeting at noon Thursday, Townsend and County Executive Ted Rumley announced they weren't sure if the meeting was legal. Same would go for the second meeting Thursday, held at 6 p.m. If that were the case, they would need to re-advertise in the Sentinel and start the whole process over. That could take weeks.
"We got a pass [the first time]," Townsend said during the noon meeting. "I'm not so sure now. We just want to move forward."
But around 3 p.m., Townsend said he got word from the Department of Revenue: They would be good to go. They simply had to agree to run another ad, announcing next Thursday's third and final tax hike meeting in next week's paper. And hopefully, the ad would be big enough in the paper this time.
Overall, the county's millage rate will remain the same: 10.565. This is the amount, per $1,000, that a resident has to pay on taxable property value. For example, if you have $40,000 in taxable property value, you would pay $422.60 to the local government.
Because property values, on average, have gone up in the county this year, the local government advertised that it will get 4.4 percent more money this year than last year. But after speaking with the Department of Revenue on Thursday, Townsend said he realized that the county actually advertised a higher increase than it will get.
Why? They didn't factor in "freezes," homeowners who have asked the county to stop changing their property values with each new assessment. This has been allowed in the county since 2002. As a result, some homes with increased values will not actually pay more money this year. Townsend said he now expects the county to get about 2.7 percent more money in unincorporated parts of the county and 3.7 percent more in incorporated parts.
Overall, the county is expecting to spend about $380,000 more this year, a 3.9 percent increase over last year's budget. The commissioners did not vote to increase the tax rate. But with property values increasing this year, the overall revenue will go up 4.4 percent. If a homeowner's property is among those with boosted values, they will pay higher taxes.
The biggest increase in spending is for employee insurance, which is going up about $330,000 this year. The sheriff's office will see a $208,000 boost, and the jail will see a $107,000 boost. The county will add two school resource officers and two jail officers, Sheriff Ray Cross previously told the Times Free Press.
During Thursday's meeting, about 10 residents sat in the front rows of a courtroom. County Executive Ted Rumley urged them not to think of the increase in property tax revenue as a tax hike. (With the county's increased values, the commissioners could have also "rolled back" the rate, giving them the same amount of money they received last year.)
"I'd say 90 percent of people in the county, close to it, won't pay more at all," Rumley told the tiny audience. "Unless you built on to your house."
Only one resident spoke up, a woman who later declined to give her name. She told the commissioners she was confused by the tax increase. She had trouble grasping how taxes could go up when the actual tax rate remained steady.
A second woman said she would speak — at the 6 p.m. meeting. She did not show up to the 6 p.m. meeting.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.