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County to raise tax rate 1 mill
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Rockdale County is proposing a 1 mill tax rate increase, from 14.53 to 15.53, to help close a more than $4 million budget deficit this year. The coverage of the county portion of the tax bill from the Homestead Option Sales Tax is also proposed to drop from 80 percent to 75 percent.

The Board of Commissioners will vote on setting the millage rate on Aug. 24 at 10 a.m.

Although the final tax bill an individual receives depends on many factors, such as how much the property value changed,  individual exemptions, and other portions of the property tax bill, property owners with values that fell by more than 10 percent could see a smaller tax bill this year, according to Tax Commissioner Dan Ray.

Tax bills normally go out in the beginning of September.

The millage rate for the school portion was increased by about 2 mills, from 21 to 22.99, and the city portion remained the same at 9.41. One mill is equivalent to one dollar charged per thousand of assessed value.

For the county, the 1 mill rate increase was the amount originally projected last year when the $55.4 million general fund budget was passed with an estimated gap of about $2 million. Last year, the projection for the tax digest was that it would shrink by about 3 percent.

Earlier this year that gap estimate increased to about $4.4 million due to lower projections of the tax digest (8 percent shrinkage). To close the gap, the county was looking at options of raising the millage rate, up to two mills, in combination with other cuts. Each mill increase brings in about $2.6 million.

The county cut about $1.4 million earlier this year in salaries, benefits and general operating costs, according to Finance Department Director Roselyn Miller.

Efforts to close part of the remaining budget hole with three unpaid holidays in 2010 for county employees, which would save about $300,000, has slowed. The Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office, which employs the majority of county employees, had requested at the beginning of the discussion on furloughs to cut an equivalent amount from its budget, about $135,000, instead. Before the Board of Commissioners voted on the matter on Aug. 10, other constitutional and elected officers reportedly expressed a strong interest in cutting from their budgets rather than cutting employee pay.

The Rockdale Water and Sewerage Authority also protested cutting paid holidays for Rockdale Water Resources employees at the Aug. 9 Board of Commissioners work session.

Authority board chair Elaine Nash read a resolution on the matter and pointed out any savings from RWR furlough days would not affect the general fund, since RWR operates on separate enterprise fund. The resolution also stated that "Staff members of Rockdale Water Resources Treatment and Maintenance Facilities work rotating shifts which include holidays in support of providing continuous utility service."

Authority board member Garvin Haynes said requiring RWR furloughs would be boosting morale for other county employees "by penalizing the Rockdale Water Resources employees."

Commissioner JaNice Van Ness pointed out that Rockdale Water Resources raised rates on its customers but seemed unwilling to make cuts.

The BOC decided to defer the vote again until the next meeting, which would be Aug. 24.


Homestead Option Sale Tax relief

The amount of property tax paid by the Homestead Option Sales Tax, a 1 penny tax on every sales dollar, has also fallen from 80 percent coverage last year to about 75 percent coverage this year.

The HOST coverage is determined by the amount of sales tax collected in the previous year. For this year, about $11.5 million was collected in HOST funds, according to Tax Commissioner Dan Ray.

The county had about $13.6 million in HOST funds to use in 2009, which was enough for an 80 percent homestead property tax reduction - the first time since HOST was implemented that the entire county portion wasn't reduced.

Last year, many homeowners saw their tax bills jump as they were hit doubly when the state canceled the Homestead Tax Relief Grant, which had refunded a portion of the taxes homestead owners paid, and with lower than usual HOST fund collection.

Rockdale is one of the few Georgia counties to offer a HOST funded reduction, along with DeKalb County.