COVINGTON, Ga. — Residents complained about higher property assessments and the need for more efficiency in government operations during the first public hearing on the 2022 county budget Tuesday.
Five property owners told the Newton County Board of Commissioners during a public hearing Tuesday, June 8, they were concerned about property assessment increases doubling in some cases without new services being planned in the proposed county spending plan.
District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards said he knew assessments were much higher than previous years but the board “in all likelihood” will not need the increased revenue those higher values would produce.
He said the board had neither approved the 2022 budget nor set a property tax rate, also known as the millage rate.
“No one’s taxes have gone up yet,” Edwards said.
Commissioners received the proposed 2022 county government budget June 8 that is slightly larger than the current year and includes 32 new full-time positions — half of which will not be hired until Jan. 1 to staff a new east Newton fire station.
The total budget, including all funds, is $119.1 million that is 1.6% higher than the current budgeted amount of $117.3 million for 2021.
The General Fund — which makes up the majority of the budget and funds most government operations — totals $78.1 million for 2022 and is a 2.5% increase from the 2021 total of $76.2 million.
Jay Lowery of Mansfield told commissioners Tuesday he believed any extra income that exceeded expenditures in past years should have been used to lower property taxes.
He said the county needed to undertake efficiency studies to determine if the amount of work required by the county justified the number of employees being added in such areas as public works.
“I see nothing to verify expenditures,” he said.
Douglas P. Johnson of south Newton County and Kim Pecylek of Oxford said notices they recently received showed higher assessments meant increases in their tax bills were coming.
Pecylek said she wanted to see more spending planned on health care or other county services to justify any tax increases.
Edwards said the “anxiety over the assessed increases is real (and) it’s real for me.”
“(It is) all market-driven,” he said.
“That’s what you’re seeing … property values driven by the market,” Edwards said.
The Board of Commissioners annually sets a property tax rate to fund most of the budget after receiving the 2021 county tax digest from the tax commissioner’s office.
Taxpayers see it in addition to a separate property tax rate to help fund the county school district annually.
The tax digest is the total assessed value of all taxable property in Newton County each year. It is used to determine the amount of tax income needed to help balance the annual county government and school district budgets and city budgets.
Edwards said any estimates taxpayers saw on their assessment notices were not based on a tax rate for the 2022 budget.
“When property values are here like they are now for whatever reason,” he said, gesturing with his hand above his head, “Then we have to set a millage rate for a budget that is down here.”
“The only control we have is the budget and the millage rate,” Edwards said.
Veteran Commissioner J.C. Henderson said sales taxes also are imposed on property taxpayers and they have asked him what the board can do about keeping property taxes low.
“I care,” Henderson said. “I’m not supporting no tax increases. I’m sick of it.”
He added he believed $2.6 million the county recently received from the sale of land in the Stanton Springs technology park should have been used for direct tax relief for property owners.
The Joint Development Authority of Newton and three other counties gave the money to Newton County government recently from the sale of land for a project not yet made public in the park near Social Circle.
County Manager Lloyd Kerr has said the money is being used to reduce the money needed from taxpayers for capital purchases that would have been included in the 2022 budget if the sale proceeds had not been given to the county.
Adoption of the budget is tentatively set for Tuesday, June 15, at 7 p.m. after a final public hearing at 6 p.m. in the Historic Courthouse at 1124 Clark St. in Covington.