Moultrie Observer

Local News

June 6, 2012

Property appraisals raise ire

MOULTRIE — Colquitt County Commission seemed to expect criticism about a proposed $3 increase in the fee the county charges to collect garbage, but when commissioners held a public hearing on the budget Tuesday, sparks flew on a different topic: property appraisals.

Six people spoke during the public hearing, which was scheduled for 30 minutes but lasted nearly an hour. Two primarily addressed appraisals, one the garbage fee, and the other two a road issue that didn’t relate to the budget.

The county’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2013 totals almost $20.2 million. That’s a $700,000 increase from the current year, according to documents presented at the meeting.

To meet the budget, the county will have to draw about $726,000 from its reserves. The county has more than $8 million in reserves, County Administrator Bryan Shuler said last week.

Shuler said the county has budgeted withdrawals from reserves each of the last three years. The last two years, the county has been able to tighten its belt and not draw from those reserves. In the current year, the county will have to spend some reserves; exactly how much isn’t known yet, but it’s expected to be less than was budgeted.

Ronald McMullen, a Sumner Road resident, told commissioners he’d received an appraisal notice that increased the value of his house by $11,000. Last year, the 3,400-square-foot home on 20 acres was valued at $188,000, he said; this year it was $199,000. That will raise his annual ad valorem tax from $1,700 to $1,950, he said, even if tax rates stay the same.

McMullen proposed that the county roll back the millage rate to account for higher appraisals and keep the budget flat.

“Can’t you find something you can do without, rather than going up on the appraisals to bring more money in?” he asked.

Commissioner Johnny Hardin rose to McMullen’s challenge.

“We have to operate a county,” Hardin said. “In the last five or six years, we cut numerous jobs. We’ve cut back capital equipment that we haven’t bought.”

Hardin said the proposed budget is more than $700,000 in the hole — the amount the county will have to get from reserves — and reducing the revenue as McMullen suggested would make it worse.

County officials explained how taxes are calculated:

• The county Board of Assessors, using state guidelines, sets the values for real estate and vehicles in the county to compile the county’s digest.

• The county makes a spending plan to do the work of the county, and based on that budget and the digest the county sets a millage rate.

• Meanwhile, each municipality and the board of education also make budgets and set millage rates for their areas. The tax commissioner adds up relevant millage rates and applies them to the appraised values of each property.

Shuler said the Board of Assessors told the county government that the digest increased by more than 6 percent, but the county based its budget on an increase of half that because of expected appeals.

One of those appeals was filed by the second speaker of the evening, Billy Dean Woods of Jacqueline Circle, who said his home’s value increased by $34,000, which raised his expected tax from $1,200 to $1,700 per year.

“We’re in a depressed real estate city,” Woods said. “Drive through Colonial Heights and see all the for-sale signs and the foreclosures.”

While McMullen touched upon the garbage fee hike, the only speaker to directly address it was the Rev. Rufus R. Jolly, who urged the commissioners to implement it incrementally: a $1.50 increase this year followed by another next year. He proposed using more reserves to make up the difference in this year’s budget.

“We have a lot of people on fixed incomes, and a dollar counts,” he said.

Jolly, who said he was a former insurance agent, also encouraged the county to be more selective in its insurance plans. He said some friends of his who work for the county had asked him to look at their policies, and he found the deductibles very high compared to the policy he has on himself.

Jolly also said recent wrecks of deputies’ patrol cars has driven up the county’s liability insurance, after which Milton Mercer, who lives in the county’s Ty Ty District, urged the commissioners to stop letting deputies take their patrol cars home. He said he has a similar problem with school bus drivers who take their buses home — at least one of whom lives in Tift County, he said.

No action was taken on the budget Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday night, the commission:

• Heard from two Apache Drive residents, who renewed complaints about the road and efforts to get it paved.

• Approved the use of the agricultural auditorium by Eula Vickers for the May Family reunion May 26, 2013.

• Approved the low bids for asphalt for Tompkins Road, Hiers Road and Perryman Road; CRS-2H Prime and MC70 Prime; and double surface treatment for Perryman Road.

• Closed a bank account with $0 balance at Southwest Georgia Bank, one of two the county has associated with Community Development Block Grants.

• Voted to cancel the commission’s second meeting of each month through October.

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