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Posted: April 1, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Values go down, but will taxes?

Property values decrease, but home owners may see no changes or increases in tax bills

Property values have decreased across most of Newton County, but property tax bills may not decrease in 2009.

Chief Tax Assessor Tommy Knight said more than 95 percent of residential properties in the county have decreased in value from 2008, with areas losing anywhere from a few percent to more than 30 percent of their value. The county revalues property every year and the 2009 property value assessments will be mailed to residents on April 15.

However, the Georgia House of Representatives recently voted not to include the Homeowner Tax Relief Grant in the state’s 2010 fiscal year budget and the Senate is expected to follow suit. The grant saved Newton County homeowners an average of $246 on their property taxes this fiscal year.

In addition, entities within the county may need to increase their millage rate if they find themselves in a financial shortfall. This would further increase property tax bills, meaning residents might not see a net decrease on their 2010 fiscal year bills. Proposed millage rate changes must be publically advertised before they are adopted.

County Chairman Kathy Morgan said she hopes the county will not have to increase its millage rate, but admitted it was a possibility. Under state law, property taxes are used to fill in any budget shortfalls. Morgan said the county is cutting its budget to the "bare bones" to account for expected revenue declines. However, county governments have to provide certain services and if the county can’t cut the budget to equal the lost revenue, then increased property taxes might be needed to cover the gap.

"No one has the intention of increasing the millage rate a significant amount if at all," Morgan said. "Without the homeowner tax relief grant, everyone will get a tax increase anyway. We’re cutting our budget just to meet the decrease in tax revenues from devaluations. There’s not any fluff in this budget, I can honesty tell you that."

Newton County is beginning its budget process Thursday night and will decide during the next two months whether the millage rate needs to be increased, Morgan said. She said the commission expects to submit their budget to the state by the end of May.

Morgan added the county will then have public hearings on the budget in June.

Besides the county, several other entities must decide if they need to increase their millage rates as well, including all municipalities and the board of education. Those entities’ must have their budgets approved by the state before the start of their 2010 fiscal year, which is July 1.

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