MONROE — Walton County’s largest cities are challenging the tax rate set for them by the county.
Mayors Dan Curry of Loganville, Greg Thompson of Monroe and Hal Dally of Social Circle wrote to members of the Board of Commissioners they think the advertised millage rate “is not consistent with the Adopted Service Delivery Strategy for Walton County” and also inconsistent with the 2018 budget.
They proposed a lower rate. A majority of commissioners accepted at something in between at their meeting Tuesday night. By a 5-1 vote, the Board of Commissioners accepted the 10.905-mill rate with an additional 0.76 mills imposed on residents of Between, Good Hope, Jersey and Walnut Grove, plus the unincorporated parts of the county.
The county approved a $52.2 million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Commissioners later proposed a millage rate of 11.325 mills for all county residents. The proposed millage rate also would assess a 0.76-mill tax for fire service in Between, Good Hope, Jersey and Walnut Grove, and in unincorporated areas of the county.
That’s a change from previous years, where residents of the three largest cities had a lower county tax rate due to having their own fire services. Those cities also assess their own taxes.
In their letter, the mayors said the service delivery agreement among the county and cities says the county government will pay for the fire departments primarily from insurance franchise fees from the unincorporated county, supplemented by the general fund.
The county then established a special tax district for all areas except the three largest cities to exclude their property owners from the general property taxes used to support the county fire departments.
The mayors argue the countywide millage rate should be 10.623 mills, and the fire district millage rate should be 1.029 mills. That would leave residents of all but Loganville, Monroe and Social Circle at a total rate of 11.652 mills.
The city leaders base their figures on a total budgeted expense for fire service (outside Loganville, Monroe and Social Circle) of slightly more than $5.45 million, against fire insurance premium taxes of $3.6 million. That leaves the county fire district to make up a $1.85 million deficit.
Based on the tax digest of properties in the unincorporated parts of the fire district, the mayors figure that requires a tax of 1.03 mills.
“All the citizens of Walton County will benefit by having an adjusted countywide millage rate that is limited to only 10.623 mills,” the mayors wrote. “This lower countywide millage rate is achieved by shifting the cost of the fire protection services to the special fire tax district.”
If the mayors were to get their way, residents would see a decrease in their tax bills compared to what the Board of Commissioners proposed.
A $100,000 house with no exemptions would pay $474.20 a year on the rate of 11.325 proposed by the commissioners. That would increase to $483.40 at 12.085 with the fire service tax added.
A rate of 10.754 mills in the largest cities and 10.905 mills elsewhere would have been considered the “rollback” rate, which is the rate needed to generate the same amount of revenue in the previous year, when accounting for changes to value of property values.
Little declined to comment Monday but said the county’s Finance Department was reviewing the numbers presented by the mayors.
The rate passed 5-1 with only Commissioner Lee Bradford opposed. Bradford was the only vote to oppose the 2016 rate as well. Last year was the first time in several years the county did not accept the rollback rate.
The Board of Commissioners has since seen one change, with the death of District 1 Commissioner Clinton Ayers in October. Tommy Stringer succeeded him.
— Staff writer Brittney Fitzpatrick contributed to this report.