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County holds millage rate same as last year
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After hearing about a less-than-expected drop in property value and increased property tax exemption coverage from sales taxes, the Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to hold the 2012 county property tax rate the same as last year, 16.91 mills.

The county had built its 2012 $55.7 million budget anticipating a 5 percent drop in net digest, or the total taxable amount of property value, said Finance Director Roselyn Miller. However, the net digest ended up dropping only 4.5 percent. That represents about $220,000 less that will have to be taken out of fund balance, said Miller. Originally, the county was going to dip into its reserves by about $3.1 million to balance the budget, but will now take about $2.9 million instead.  

The Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST), a one percent sales tax in Rockdale that helps alleviate homeowners property tax bill, will be able to cover more of the county portion of local homeowners' property taxes. Last year, the HOST funds were able to to exempt about 82 percent of homeowners' county taxes. This year, the HOST exemption will be about 98 percent.

Miller said this was due to a number of factors, including increased sales tax collection - about 11 percent more than last year - as well as lower property values and less homeowners - about 800 fewer homesteaded owners.

About $13.2 million was collected in 2011 (to be applied for 2012), up from $12 million collected in 2010 and $11.49 million collected in 2009

However, the number of homesteads claimed dropped in 2011 to 19,179. In 2010, it was 19,972, and in 2009 it was 20,042.

Chairman Richard Oden said this was an example of the impact of shopping locally. "Those are the small things that make a huge difference," he said.

Commissioner Oz Nesbitt said, "This is a good thing... I'm excited about it."

Van Ness pointed out, for balancing the budget, "Having to pull from your savings account is never a great thing."

The commissioners voted unanimously on keeping the millage rate at 16.91 mills.

Although the rate is the same, because property values and tax digest went down, this means the county will collect about $1.8 million or 4.5 percent less than collected last year.

The previous year, the millage rate was raised from 15.53 to 16.91.

This is the first year after the lifting of the state’s three-year moratorium on increases for property assessments and a return to fair-market values instead. According to Tax Assessor Lamar Sims, 2,294 appeals were filed this year compared 2,851 appeals filed last year

Normally the millage rates are due by Sept. 1 but due to delays from changes in the state's tax assessment and collection programming that delayed digest estimates, the county filed for an extension to Sept. 14. The county is the official body that levies the taxes for the city of Conyers and the Rockdale County Public School system and sets the county millage rate after the city council and school board approve their portions of the property tax.