The drop in property values and tax digests was slightly less severe than expected for 2012 and the county, city and school system will soon be setting their portions of the property tax rate accordingly.
Tax Commissioner Dan Ray had roughly projected a drop of up to 8 percent in net digest, or the total amount of taxable property value in the county, based on the previous year’s figures.
“It only came in at 4.5 percent,” said Ray. “That’s a good thing.”
Last year, the drop was nearly twice as steep, 8.4 percent in 2011, and it was 9.1 percent in 2010.
The school system paralleled the county and saw a drop of 4.6 percent for 2012, compared to 8.7 in 2011 and 9.5 in 2010.
The city, which contains the retail corridor along Ga. Highway 138, fared slightly better. The city’s net digest drop was 0.5 percent for 2012, compared to 5.5 percent in 2011 and 3.7 percent in 2010.
The past three years marks a radical departure from the continued growth Rockdale County had experienced since 1986 until 2009, when the economic crash and real estate market bust took hold.
Ray said there were a few positive signs. “Car sales are up 10-15 percent ahead of last year. That’s the bright spot I’m seeing right now.” But, he said, “I haven’t seen a downward trend in foreclosures.”
Normally the millage rate is due by Aug. 1 but the digest figures were delayed this year due to software adjustments and changes from the state, Ray said. The Tax Commissioner’s office applied and received an extension to move the deadline to Sept. 1. The millage rates must be advertised for two weeks before the bodies can take a vote.
School millage rate
The school system will recommend staying at the same millage rate as last year, 24.50, although this would mean the school system will collect $2,620,887 less than last year, according to RCPS Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis.
The rollback rate that would allow the school system to collect the same amount as last year is 25.57.
The school system built its current budget with an estimated 8 percent net digest drop but saw a 4.6 percent drop instead.
However, that margin was eliminated by several things, Davis said. The school system was only able to collect 98.6 percent of the previous year’s taxes, or about $85,000 less than expected. Also, the state recently informed RCPS and other school systems that they would have to pay an additional month of health insurance costs up front, meaning RCPS was hit with an additional $875,000 cost to start off the school year.
Davis warned that budgeting was not an exact science, and that RCPS had been fortunate so far.
RCPS had passed a tentative budget in May of approximately $124.8 million for the 2012-2013 year. Local funding makes up approximately 48 percent of the school system’s funding. The other half comes from the state, as well as some from federal grants.
The Rockdale County Board of Education will vote on the millage rate in a specially called meeting on Aug. 23, 5:30 p.m., at the Rockdale County Public Schools administrative building at 954 North Main Street.
City millage rate
Conyers Chief Financial Officer Isabel Rogers said the city would recommend staying at its current millage rate of 9.9, even though that would mean collecting about $28,000 less than last year.
The rollback rate, or the rate that would allow the city to collect the same amount as last year, is 10 mills.
The city of Conyers had budgeted for no change in net digest but experienced a 0.5 percent drop, said Rogers. The difference will be made up with small cuts and adjustments throughout the city’s departments, said Rogers.
The city passed a budget of approximately $12.9 million. The city’s fiscal year runs from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.
The Conyers city council will vote on Aug. 23, 10 a.m. at 1194 Scott Street, second floor in the city council chambers.
County millage rate
(UPDATE: The county is reportedly planning on keeping the millage rate to last year's rate of 16.91 mills or less, according to Ray.)
The county is still determining what millage rate to recommend to commissioners, according to county spokesperson Tonya Parker.
“Finance has just received the digest and is closely analyzing the numbers,” wrote Parker. “It’s a bit too early to make any decisions about recommendations to the Board of Commissioners.”
The county passed a general fund operating budget of about $55.7 million in December, built with a projected net digest drop of about 5 percent. The drop was actually about 4.5 percent.
The county is still also determining a date to vote on the millage since the BOC technically levies the millage rate for Rockdale County Public Schools and must wait until the school board officially sets their millage rate.
This is the first year after the lifting of the state’s 3-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.