By Tia Lynn Lecorchick staff writer
The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) unanimously voted to adopt the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 millage rate at 9.49 mills on July 15, the same millage rate in effect for FY 2014. The rollback rate for the county was calculated at 8.579, so even though the millage rate is technically the same as last year, it’s considered a tax increase because it is above the lowered rollback rate, which dropped because of a significant increase of property values. Because of the spike in property values from $794,000,000 in 2013 to $918,000,000 in 2014 and the BOC forgoing to adopt the rollback rate, property taxes will end up increasing by 15.25 percent, according to the Morgan County Five-Year Digest.
“It’s an increase, for sure. There’s no way around that,” said Michael Lamar, county manager. “If your value of property went up and the millage rate stays the same, you will pay a higher tax.” However, Lamar pointed out that over the last five years, there was a 16 percent drop in property taxes and that the current millage rate is still lower than what it was in 2005 when he first arrived in Morgan County. “It has never gone past 10 mills again since 2005,” said Lamar. “Revenue associated with property taxes went down dramatically over the last five years.” During the public hearing, several Morgan Coutny residents voiced dissatisfaction over the property tax increase, raising concerns over county expenditures, healthcare costs, and tax exemptions for conservation use land. Eric Joyce, of Morgan County, encouraged the the BOC to cut services and programs instead of asking property owners to pay more in taxes. “The Board of Education and City of Madison seemed to be able to adopt the rollback, but not the county. It does not reflect well on how the county has managed their money,” said Joyce.
“It’s a loss of connection between what our property values are and how much money you all feel entitled to spend.” “A lot of things beyond our control have gone up in cost, like health insurance,” said Ellen Warren, BOC member, in regards to the BOC’s decision to leave the millage rate the same instead of adopting the rollback rate. “I am urging you to find a way to cut costs,” said Joyce. “No one likes to cut services, but when we are effectively poorer, it’s not fair to ask taxpayers to just pay more and more.” Lamar reminded Joyce that the millage rate has gone down every year since 2008. Andy Ainslie, chairman of the BOC, said the county does the best it can to keep taxes low while meeting all the county’s needs. “My own property value went up 25 percent, so we are not exempt from this tax increase either. We are aware of the concerns, but realize that the same concerns are happening all over the state of Georgia, not just in Morgan County.”