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Forsyth county government, schools approve millage rates

FORSYTH COUNTY — Tax rates in Forsyth for fiscal year 2016 have been set, following a unanimous approval by the county commission Thursday of both the government and school system’s millage rates.

Though the overall millage rate means a tax hike for property owners, the figure commissioners settled on was lower than what had been advertised. The approved total rate of 27.804 mills is .17 mills less than proposed in June.

That was accomplished by approving the rollback rate for the county’s general fund, or maintenance and operations, budget. Instead of setting the rate at 4.812 mills, the commissioners decided on 4.642 mills.

Taxes collected from the M&O millage rate will fund most county services, including the judicial system, sheriff’s office, public works and parks and recreation.

A rollback rate means the same amount of property tax revenue will be collected as approved for the prior year, but reassessments on homes throughout the county and growth from new construction is expected to offset the nearly $1.6 million loss in money.

A millage rate is used in the formula to calculate property taxes. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, and assessed value is 40 percent of the actual market price.

According to Jodi Gardner, communications director for the county, a home assessed at $250,000 with a homestead exemption should expect a total annual tax bill of $2,557.97.

“After a great deal of work on the county’s preliminary 2016 budget, including reductions to budget requests,” Gardner said, “it was determined that the general fund budget could be balanced at the rollback rate.”

Commission Chairman Pete Amos mentioned that $1.5 million in budget reductions from the sheriff’s office was one reason the county could afford to adopt the rollback rate.

Two people — both in favor of the hike — spoke at the final of three required public hearings on the millage rate during the meeting..

Also during Thursday’s commission meeting, the group voted to maintain the fire district millage rate at 1.975 mills. It funds the fire department.

The bond millage rate was adopted at 1.419 mills, representing a .55 increase to reflect the debt service requirements for the $200 million transportation bond voters approved in November.

The bond program is expected to fund a variety of transportation projects, including the widening of Ga. 400.

November is the deadline for the 2016 budget’s official adoption.

With the total county millage rate set at 8.036 mills, the remainder funds the school system.

By setting a rate of 17.3 mills, Forsyth County Schools is poised to collect $154.1 million in tax funding this fall — after paying the county 2.5 percent to collect them from residents. Its bond rate is 2.418 mills.

The Board of Education approved the rate — an increase of one mill from last year — on Thursday just before the commission, which had to wait for the decision to move forward with a final, overall approval.

This is the first school tax increase since 2011.

Superintendent Jeffrey Bearden has previously explained that cut after cut was made to the school system throughout the recession, with teachers not getting sufficient pay raises.

He said the district is finally poised to make the much-needed raise to keep it competitive with surrounding systems and to fund construction and renovation projects.

With this increase, the district will still have a lower millage rate than neighboring Gwinnett, Fulton, Hall and Cherokee counties. Teachers and eligible employees should expect a 2 percent pay raise, step increases and cost-of-living adjustments.

In addition, 124 new positions will be funded, not including the $3 million to go toward health care plans for non-certified employees — bus drivers and cafeteria workers — who are no longer covered by the state.