The Colquitt County Commissioners have expressed concern that, even with the recently approved one-cent sales tax devoted to road repair and construction, they will not be able to repair the roads which need repair, let alone pave additional dirt roads. We have to wonder why that is the case. According to an article in the Observer last year, our millage rates (sales and property) are higher than in surrounding counties.
Does the county just not have enough income? So, maybe we have to look at how property is taxed and look at tax exemptions and exclusions.
Residential property is the only tax category paying its full share. However, residential property does get a homestead exemption. The exemption amounts to a whopping $54.90 in the unincorporated portion of the county! Wow! The millage rates in the several incorporated areas vary slightly, individually so that the exemption will vary accordingly. But none are enough of a reduction to write home about.
All other categories of property receive sizable reductions in taxes, and in some cases, exclusions or exemptions. Let me use property in the unincorporated area as an example.
The same millage rate is used for all real property. But the value of all real property is not the same because the county appraises it differently. All agricultural land is appraised at a lesser value than residential land so it brings in less tax revenue. And agricultural land considered to be of poorer quality for farming is even of lower value. I read that 75 percent of the county is agricultural land. I also read that agriculture brings in several hundred million dollars to the county each year. How much income did you make on your residential property last year? Is all land paying its fair share? How much income is the county losing here?
I would also suggest that the county look at other sources of lost income. For example: hundreds (or thousands) of trailers for which tags are not required and on which no annual, local taxes are collected; millions of dollars (a guesstimate) of heavy equipment purchased on which no local sales tax is collected; almost 700 residents who have local sales tax exemption cards for numerous purchases; and who knows how many purchases are made with food stamps, EBT cards and others on which no local sales taxes are required.
Realistically, the commissioners do not have the power to change most of these losses, and might not if they could. Agriculture rules this county. So I believe they must take a new look at the process of maintaining dirt roads (300 miles) and paving what they can.
Do we have a priority paving list based on real need rather than political needs? Can we pave the ones that we do with more stringent design standards relative to base requirements to support heavier loads, and of greater width to protect the edges from wide loads? This would increase the life of the roadbed and lessen maintenance requirements. Can we look at less expensive types of paving, like single surface treatment, on roads with less and lighter traffic? Can we consider and evaluate the use of soil-cement, aggregate stabilized, surfaces in lieu of asphalt paving on some dirt roads? This method could be done with county forces and equipment.
Are there some dirt roads with so little traffic that an upgrade is just not financially feasible? Are there some dirt roads which are just not necessary, which could be closed?
Let’s face facts. Our status as an agricultural based county, with probably more dirt roads than any county, is not going to change. So the alternative is to change how we administer our road system.
Residential property taxes are already out of reach for many of our retired citizens. And the school board refuses to allow a referendum for a vote on exempting senior citizens from paying school taxes. So let us take a look at what we can do which will be to everyone’s advantage.