It’s property tax time in Cherokee County, as we prepare for the upcoming fiscal year.
The board of commissioners (BOC) sets the tax rates for county maintenance and operations (M&O), the fire tax, and the parks bond tax. Property taxes make up about half the county’s total revenues. Other taxes, grants, fees and fines contribute almost as much. The board of education separately sets the rate for school taxes and controls those funds.
Last year’s BOC-controlled property tax rates were the 33rd lowest out of 159 counties in Georgia. That’s good, but it gets even better. We’re one of three counties in Georgia that doesn’t have a local option sales tax to directly drive down property tax rates. So, on a combined property-plus-sales-tax basis, we’re actually the fifth lowest in Georgia. Practically rock-bottom!
By the time you read it this, we’ll have set the tax rates for this year. We plan on a full rollback of the county M&O rate and the parks bond rate, and leaving the fire tax rate unchanged. A full rollback means we reduce the tax rate by enough to fully offset the average increase in net assessed values for existing properties. It means the average existing property pays no more than in the previous year. In the 18 years since I was first elected (including my recent four-year break), the BOC has fully rolled back the county M&O rate in all but three years, the fire tax in most years, and the parks bond tax every year. That’s what has kept our overall taxes so low.
So, what does this mean to our tax bills, when we all know property values are rising? On average, market value assessments are up roughly 6% this year. But, in Cherokee, for county M&O tax purposes, a floating homestead exemption freezes net tax valuations for most homeowners, for as long as we own our homes. Their net values for county M&O tax don’t go up at all. Those properties make up about half the county’s tax base, so the overall net tax digest for existing properties only increased about 3%. The rollback rates are calculated to offset that 3% average increase in net valuation.
Excluding school tax, the M&O tax makes up at least 50% of our tax bills, so tax-frozen homeowners should see at least a 1.5% reduction in overall nonschool taxes. Unfortunately, nonhomestead properties will see an average increase of about 4%. Those properties have to cover the homeowner tax decrease and inflationary increases in county operating costs.
Where do county property tax dollars go? About 80% goes to public safety and court system operations. The remaining 20% goes to everything else.
I’m interested in your thoughts. Please email me at email@example.com.
– Harry Johnston, chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners. He’s a retired CPA and accounting manager, and a former district commissioner.