Tax digest down $172M

ALBANY, Ga. -- A move made by local officials to save jobs and keep industry in Albany and Dougherty County has caused the tax digest to shrink by $140 million in the last year alone, tax officials say.

In total, the tax digest for assessed property in Dougherty County has dropped by $172 million over the past year, with the lion's share coming in the industrial sector, Tax Director Denver Hooten said.

That particular figure, $140 million, likely stems from renewal of agreements between local government and Miller Coors Brewing Co. and Procter & Gamble, which was meant to help keep both entities in town for the next few decades. The agreements provided incentive packages that included tax abatement in exchange for a lump sum annual payments.

"The jobs are what is the force multiplier," Hooten said. "It's nice to have a building on taxable property, but if they bring in or retain jobs, that's more people who are buying houses and vehicles and paying sales taxes."

Other significant decreases in the digest came in the motor vehicles sector. A state-mandated moratorium on increases in tax assessments coupled with a recession that is prompting people to keep their older cars rather than buy new ones has caused that part of the digest to sink by 12.4 percent, or $22 million in assessed values.

"People are holding onto their vehicles longer and they depreciate in value and it shrinks the digest," Hooten said.

With the moratorium in place for another full year and no real indicators that the economy is going to pick up, Hooten is predicting that the digest will continue its decline for at least another 12 months.

"It's not going away, so it'll mean some tough choices next year," she said.

It's sobering news for County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard, who just finished what had been described as by some on the board as an excruciating budget process.

"It's staggering," Sinyard said during Monday's meeting. "It's just staggering to think that $200 million in assessed values have gone away."

Despite the bleak outlook, Sinyard told the commission that he would like for the board to still keep in mind the possibility of some day freezing property tax assessments for seniors.

"It's something we'll continue to talk about," Sinyard said. "We need to make sure Dougherty County still is a welcome place for seniors come to live or to retire."