Richard Swearengin

Richard Swearengin, who’s lived in Walton County, Ga., since 1993, addresses the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Monroe, Ga.

MONROE, Ga. — Property owners in Walton County and the city of Monroe will see tax rates fall this year.

The Walton County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday night to adopt the rollback rate for the first time in five years, at 10.677 mills. At about the same time, the Monroe City Council voted to take the 7.588-mill rollback rate.

A rollback is the rate that has to be set to fund the budget equally from the year before.

A homeowner with a homestead exemption pays taxes on 40% of the assessed value of the property. That means the 2020 tax bill will be $640.02 for the county and another $473.10 for city taxes.

Surprise cut

County commissioners were poised to hold the tax rate at 10.905 mills until the day they were supposed to vote. After questioning by David Thompson, who’ll become chairman in 2021, last week, Finance Department officials pressed actuaries to get more accurate numbers on how much the county would have to spend on defined benefit plans.

The budget originally called for a $1.4 million increase in county spending. Finance Director Milton Cronheim said his predecessor set that number a few months ago based on fears about how poorly the stock market might recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

“The number is $300,000 more than last time,” Cronheim told commissioners. “It’s not $1.4 million more than last time.”

That spending cut allowed commissioners to consider the rollback rate of 10.677 mills.

The original rate would have meant a tax bill of $654.30 for a $150,000 house.

Dr. Jeremy Adams made the motion to pass the budget with a hiring freeze until the first of the year, except for Walton EMS to staff a new ambulance.

It passed 5-1 with Commissioner Mark Banks opposed. Banks previously offered a motion “to see the numbers roll back to last year’s budget,” which was nearly $54 million.

“I’m just the old conservative on the board,” Banks, a Republican from Loganville, said.

But that measure died for lack of a second.

The millage rate was approved on a similar 5-1 vote.

The Finance Department is recalculating the budget, which was drafted at about $57 million.

Back to normal

Monroe councilors voted unanimously to roll back the millage rate.

The City Council had voted for several years in a row to take the rollback rate, but that changed in 2019 when Monroe had a sudden dip in the tax digest, largely due to the local hospital becoming a nonprofit with its purchase by Piedmont Healthcare.

The rate went up 9.15% last year, to 7.802 mills.

The tax rate cut still might not be enough to offset higher tax bills for some homeowners, depending on the change in their assessments in the past year. Monroe officials said they’re still expected to bring in about $143,000 more this year than last year — assuming full collection of taxes — based on higher values, even at the rollback rate.

Walnut Grove cut

Walnut Grove was expected to cut its tax rate as well, to 5.604 mills.

The city only began to levy a property tax in 2018, at 6 mills. It has decreased each of the past two years. The new rate would make the annual tax $336.24 on a $150,000 house.

School taxes

The Board of Commissioners will meet Tuesday night to pass the Walton County Board of Education millage rate, which is expected to be 19.1 mills, or $1,146 a year on that $150,000 house.

The school board’s proposed tax rate is a decrease from the 20.9-mill rate from 2019, but still above the rollback rate.

For Social Circle residents, the city Board of Education has requested a 3.96% increase over the rollback millage rate, to 19.278 mills. That would mean a tax bill of $1,156.68 for schools.

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