At the most recent Cherokee County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board held a discussion on what options members had regarding setting a property tax millage rate for the coming year.
Of the options discussed, all involved a tax increase ranging between $32 and $65 on a house valued at $285,000, which is the average home value in the county. County residents will have a chance to weigh in on the tax rate at three upcoming public hearings, beginning on Tuesday.
The discussion began during the work session with a presentation from Cherokee County Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Marquis.
“Today I’ll present three scenarios for us to look at as we talk about our millage rate,” Marquis said. He said expected spending and non-property tax income were calculated in order to determine the amount of property taxes that would be needed to meet the county’s needs.
Marquis said the budget contains spending increases in healthcare for county employees, increased costs for judicial services, elections and the creation of the new county communications department. In addition, 45 new county positions were being added during this fiscal year budget, with 25 new employees set to start on Oct. 1 and the other 20 on April 1 of next year.
Of the three scenarios developed for consideration, the first simply added these 45 new employees, with no pay raises for existing employees. The second option included a 7% raise for public safety employees and a 3% raise for non-public safety employees. The third scenario included pay raises of 10% for public safety employees and 5% for non-public safety employees.
Under the three options, the total county general fund budget ranged from $108 million to $113 million. The county’s fire fund ranged from $36 million to $38 million.
When calculating non-property tax revenue, Marquis said the current projections put the general fund revenue at $48 million and $8 million for the fire fund. However, after an expected transfer of money into the fire fund, its non-property tax revenue jumped to nearly $19 million.
Getting into property taxes, Marquis said the current millage rate for the county’s general fund stands at 5.216 mills. To collect enough money before factoring in the new employees or any pay raises, the county would have to adopt a rate of 6.214 mills. This rate would need to be 6.302 mills under the first presented scenario, 6.615 under the second one and 6.767 for the third scenario.
Similarly, the fire fund currently sits at 3.269 mills, but would have to go up to 3.330 to meet the baseline, 3.539 to account for the 7% pay adjustment and 3.628 for the 10% adjustment. After adding in the projected revenue transfer, the fire fund millage rate could drop to 2.052 mills for the baseline, 2.278 with the 7% pay increase and 2.377 with the 10% increase. The final millage rate involved the park bond debt service, which was expected to drop from its current rate of 0.480 mills to 0.461.
One reason for this significant change is due to the county realigning revenues and spending between the fire district and general county operations, leading to the slight reduction in the fire tax rate and the increase in the general fund rate.
Despite the likely increase in property taxes, Marquis said Cherokee County still has arguably the lowest property tax rate in the metro Atlanta area. In addition, when comparing Cherokee to the two other counties that do not have an additional 1% sales tax (Cobb and Gwinnett counties), Cherokee is the only one of the three that has seen a generally downward trend in its property tax millage rate, he said.
Based on the most recent information available from the other metro counties, Marquis showed that, even if the county were to adopt scenario three and raise the millage rate to the highest considered level, Cherokee County would still have the lowest rates of any county in the area.
“What is our next step?” he said. “We’ll have a public hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 4 at 11 a.m., and then a second hearing that night at 6 p.m., then a special-called meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 12.”
Following the third public hearing on Aug. 12, he said the county will be able to make its decision on where the millage rate will be set for the upcoming year.