2014-12-10 / News

BURKE COUNTY COMMISSION

Property owners plead for a break
By Anne Marie Kyzer

Property owners showed up at a tax hearing last week to ask county commissioners to lower the millage rate this year.

Burke County Commissioners held the first of three scheduled hearings on the millage rate last Wednesday and were met by taxpayers who were frustrated that commissioners were not planning to lower the tax rate while it’s possible.

The county’s tax digest swelled by more than $202 million this year to total $2,582,996,348. (For a more detailed breakdown, see the county’s millage history advertised on page 7.)

Commission chairman Wayne Crocket pointed out that the county will collect more than a million in surplus if they don’t lower the rate. He had proposed at a previous meeting that the county lower the fire district millage in unincorporated areas by about 22 percent to give property owners a tax break. But only Georgia DeLoach supported him, while vice chairman Allen DeLaigle, Terri Lodge Kelly and Lucious Abrams wanted to leave it the same in case the county needed the funds.

One county resident in the audience questioned their disagreeing with a tax cut.

“I can’t imagine any of the constituents in your areas appreciate you doing that,” she said.

Abrams said he wanted to keep the millage rate the same because he’s concerned that the county might need those funds to build additional fire stations in the future.

“I’m looking twenty years down the road,” he said, noting that newcomers may not be inclined to build a house outside of a fire zone, which would mean they’d pay higher insurance.

One resident in commission vice chairman DeLaigle’s district called on him specifically to lower taxes.

“I’m here asking that you roll back the millage rate,” he said, noting how fortunate Burke County is to have the property tax revenue from Plant Vogtle. “If we can’t find a way to relieve this burden on taxpayers with all this money coming in…”

DeLaigle granted that it “takes a lot of money to run this county,” but said he wasn’t going to make excuses for his vote. He also hinted that he might be willing to change his position.

“Maybe we can straigten this out,” he said. “When I talked to Merv (Waldrop), I realized we have enough money to do it.”

County Administrator Merv Waldrop said the additional funds that would be collected if the fire district millage is not rolled back are not needed to meet the county’s budget for the coming year.

“I don’t feel comfortable lowering the general fund rate because of the commitments we’ve made to help the hospital,” he said, noting the $4 million that will be directed toward helping fund Burke Medical Center. “But we could drop the fire district rate and still make budget.”

SPEAK UP

Another tax hearing will be held today (Wednesday) at 5 p.m. in the commissioners’ meeting room on the second floor of the Burke County Courthouse. The third and final hearing will be Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 6:30 p.m., when the commissioners will officially adopt a millage rate for property taxes.

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