0

Lee County Commission sets tax millage rate

Lee County Commissioner Greg Frich, who chaired the commission’s Finance Committee in his first year, said he believes there are efficiencies that will allow the county to provide at least the same level of service at a lower cost. (Albany Herald file photo)

Lee County Commissioner Greg Frich, who chaired the commission’s Finance Committee in his first year, said he believes there are efficiencies that will allow the county to provide at least the same level of service at a lower cost. (Albany Herald file photo)

LEESBURG — Lee County property owners will be getting their tax bills in two to three weeks — bills that will see them have to dig a little deeper in their pocketbooks this year.

Lee County commissioners voted Tuesday night to set the county government’s portion of tax millage rate at 12.766 mills, the same rate the board has approved since 2008.

The Lee County Board of Education previously approved a 2.5-mill increase, moving its millage rate to 17.5 mills for county school operations.

The total county millage rate is 30.816 mills. The county government’s rate would have been higher — 15.680 mills — if not for a 2.914 mill rollback due to collection of the Local Option Sales Tax.

In addition to 17.5 mills for the school system, the county collects 0.4 mills to pay principle and interest on countywide school bonds.

The tax bills also include a 0.15 mill assessment that goes to the state to cover its expense in collecting the taxes.

“We’re working on that right now,” Tax Commissioner Susan Smith said when asked about the timetable for mailing tax bills. “We’re getting everything finished to go out in the middle of September. That’s kind of early, but I like to do that.”

Smith said the bills will have a due date of Dec. 20.

The commission voted 5-0 Tuesday night to maintain its same millage rate. The vote came without discussion, but the board has conducted numerous meetings with county department heads and constitutional officers in the past two months to formulate its spending plan.

The rate will remain the same, but that rate should produce additional funds this year for two reasons.

First, the tax digest grew slightly from $888 million to $906 million. Second, Lee County will get a larger slice of Local Option Sales Tax funds this year as a result of a new agreement between the county, Leesburg and Smithville.

Commissioner Greg Frich of District 5, who served as chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee during his first term on the board, said he was pleased with the finished product.

“It’s been a sobering year with regard to revenues and requirements,” he said.

Frich said his biggest education was learning what various departments and constitutional officers required to get their jobs accomplished.

Frich, who has considerable experience in handling large budgets in his professional career, said he looks forward to the budgeting process for the next fiscal year.

“We are very eager about this next budget year,” he said. “We believe we are on to some efficiencies within the county where we are going to be able to take good care of our county employees and still deliver a higher degree of service, or at least the same degree, for less money.”

Frich said he took a conservative approach when he began working on the budget committee, but said he didn’t go into the process committed to maintaining the same tax rate regardless of needs.

“You look at quality of life and what makes us so special,” he said. “We have a very competitive millage rate here. If there is a service delivery requirement that would require a millage increase, then we would do that.

“However, there are a lot of options we can employ prior to doing that.”

Frich said the work was complicated slightly as Lee County and other counties across the state attempt to figure out how the financial impact of the new vehicle ad valorem tax.

“Indications are some counties ended up with more revenues, and some ended up with less,” he said. “We’ve been happy with the cooperation we have had from state elected officials trying to help us understand this.

“By the end of the year, we will understand it better.”

The change requires vehicle buyers to pay ad valorem taxes at the time of purchase of a vehicle, but relieves them of the “birthday tax” that Georgians have paid in past years.