Property taxes increase for some as Macon-Bibb holds millage rate

Because+Macon-Bibb+County%27s+Government+Center+is+limiting+access+due+to+COVID-19%2C+three+public+hearings+on+the+millage+rage+were+held+virtually.+

Liz Fabian

Because Macon-Bibb County's Government Center is limiting access due to COVID-19, three public hearings on the millage rage were held virtually.

Macon-Bibb County commissioners voted to hold the current millage rate at 20.331 mills for 2020, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s taxes will remain the same.

Higher assessed values on the roughly one-third of properties evaluated this year means taxes will go up on those. Plus, the county has seen an additional $1,144,978 from new properties.

Because the tax digest is increasing by about $2.6 million, public hearings were required.

After two virtual public hearings last week and another Tuesday afternoon, commissioners held a special called meeting to set the rate at which property taxes will be levied.

Commissioners Mallory Jones and Valerie Wynn expressed concerns that the public believes the county is raising taxes when they are actually keeping the tax rate the same.

“It’s not a tax increase. That’s a misnomer. We’re required to call it that,” Jones said.

Mayor Robert Reichert said the county has tried to explain it to the public by publishing an ad in The Telegraph outlining the tax digest and millage rate over the past five years.

“The millage rate is the same. It’s the tax base that’s expanded and that’s a good thing,” Reichert explained in the first public hearing.

At the current millage rate of 20.331, home owners pay about $20.33 for every $1,000 of assessed value.

If the county rolled back the millage rate to 19.987 to compensate for the reassessments and new property, it would lose nearly $1.5 million dollars that could be spent to properly compensate employees in the pending pay scale adjustments and help make up for tax revenue losses due to COVID-19.

The commissioners heard comments from 10 people but only one was in favor of keeping the millage rate constant.

Tim Spishock, who lives near downtown Macon, said he’s paying much less in taxes than in other areas he’s lived.

“There are many problems that Macon is currently facing from crime to blight to education shortfalls and these things will all take money to change for the better,” Spishock wrote.

An anonymous resident emailed Reichert bemoaning five straight years of increased taxes.

“You and your administration are crushing the souls of the people of Macon,” signed “broken and dejected.”

Some of the other commenters appeared to misunderstand that the tax rate itself was not going up.

Janet Crocker pointed out that residents in the south part of Bibb County are paying higher taxes but have not reaped promised benefits of consolidation.

“We have serious drainage issues in our neighborhood,” Crocker said.

Nicole Woods said, “ I personally don’t feel like spending another red cent on Macon-Bibb until the commission and mayor show us that they’ve responsibly exhausted the funds that they already receive.”

D. Batts wrote: “Property owners cannot carry the weight of this county alone. Increase sales tax, go back to auto inspections, do something so that everyone shares in the expenses of the city. I’m sick of property tax as the only answer.”

Rod Jarvis emailed: “It’s high time you stayed within current values. Unlike yourselves, we have to live with our inflow of money.”

Judy Burton wanted commissioners to know her property assessment increased $70,000 which adds nearly $800 to her tax bill.

“Don’t you know we’re in the middle of a pandemic?” Burton asked.

Donna Heard told commissioners that they should not “waste money” moving  statues, referring to plans to enhance public spaces and remove Confederate monuments.

“It’s time for you to learn how to manage money,” Heard wrote. “You need to think about your residents who have been out of work the last few months.”

Reichert has said he would mostly rely on private funding sources to fund relocating the Confederate statues downtown. During Tuesday’s committee meetings, commissioners approved shifting $200,000 to the Cotton Avenue Plaza fund. The money comes from more than $1 million previously allocated for storm water improvements as part of the Central City Commons proposed development that’s on hold while awaiting financing.

The mayor’s three-prong downtown plan needs $500,000 in place before the first project begins – moving the Confederate soldier to make way for the enhanced plaza along Second Street. A judge has issued a temporary injunction blocking relocation of the monuments due to a pending lawsuit.

Commissioners Joe Allen and Al Tillman, who serves as mayor pro tem, voted against holding the millage rate.

“Our job is to take care of the citizens of Macon-Bibb County, Mr. Mayor, and if we can do this by giving them a little money back, that’s what I’m going to do,” Allen said before the vote.

Reichert defended the higher property tax assessments by noting that the appraisers’ work is regularly checked against the actual sale prices of real estate.

“I think our tax assessors office does a remarkable job of trying to assess the fair market value of properties,” Reichert said.

The most recent audit shows values within the required range of accuracy, the mayor said before making a final push for commissioners to hold the millage rate.

“As long as we do our part in maintaining a constant millage rate and not increasing the millage rate, then I think we’re doing right by the taxpayers especially when we’ve got plans to try to put a lot of this money that we’re trying to bring into the pay scale to do more for public safety folks and all of our employees that work so hard.”

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]