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Official: City residents not double taxed
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After a court in Gwinnett County recently ruled that the county double taxed residents for services like fire, many Newton County residents are questioning whether they are also being double taxed for services.

Covington residents pay a 8.20 millage rate on top of the 10.91 county-wide millage rate, confirmed Covington City Manager Steve Horton and Newton County Manager John Middleton.

The court case in Gwinnett arose after residents in its 15 cities that didn't want to pay the county for services provided already by the cities. In Newton County, both the city and the county provide their own law enforcement and fire protection services. Residents in Covington are paying for both law enforcement services and both fire protection services.

Covington residents do not received a reduce rate, said Horton.

"The tax payers inside the city of Covington do not receive a reduced county tax bill because the services above are also provided in and by the city of Covington," said Horton.

By Georgia law, a city is required to provide at least three services to qualify as a municipality. These services can include at least three of the following: water, sewage, garbage collection, police protection, fire protection or a library.

These services often overlap with services the county is also required to provide by Georgia law.

"The roles and services of county and city government are very different due in large part to the Constitution of the State of Georgia," Middleton said. "Counties are a political subdivision of the state and their authority to provide services is either mandated or permitted in accordance with the Georgia Constitution, federal laws, state laws, local legislation and county ordinances."

For example, the county is required to provide a sheriff's office and emergency management.

Covington residents may also pay twice for joint ventures funded by taxes between the city and county.

The county and the city of Covington jointly provide funding for Geographic Information System mapping, Keeping Covington/Newton Beautiful, Main Street Covington, Economic Development and Covington-Newton County 911.

However, Middleton said the county and city each benefit from the joint ventures in cost savings, citing the partnership with city for the GIS program.

"There are just as many city-specific GIS projects as there are county-specific," Middleton said. "The Intergovernmental Agreement with Covington and the Newton County Water and Sewage Authority allows all of us to have a better GIS program than each doing it all by themselves, at a considerable cost savings."

The costs are also split equally, said Middleton.

Middleton said residents of Newton County, living in unincorporated or incorporated areas, are not double taxed.

The Service Delivery Act, which was implemented in Sept. 1999, requires cities and counties "to evaluate the services each provided, identify those areas where there was a duplication of efforts [or] expense and then develop a better way to provide delivery and funding of governmental services to eliminate the impact of the ‘double tax' for all citizens," said Middleton.

The Service Delivery Act was re-evaluated in 2010 by the county and each municipality and authority in Newton County. At this time, modifications were made and agreed upon.