After many Forsyth County residents felt “sticker shock” following recent property assessments, some local officials recently answered questions from the community
On Wednesday, June 29, the Forsyth County Republican Party, Forsyth County Tea Party and Forsyth County Young Republican Party hosted a Tax Assessments and Mitigation Measures Town Hall at Fowler Park, where state and local officials explained the assessment and tax processes and answered questions from the crowd.
The meeting’s panel was made up of District 24 state Rep. Sheri Gilligan, District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones, District 27 state Sen. Greg Dolezal, Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairman Alfred John, District 2 Commissioner Laura Semanson, state House District 24 Republican candidate Carter Barrett and Forsyth County Board of Education District 5 Republican candidate Mike Valdes.
BOE Chairman Wes McCall was not able to attend the meeting, but a statement was read on his behalf, where he said he supported lower taxes and a floating homestead exemption for schools, which would allow owners with the exemption to have their property value hold in place when there are new assessments.
How is the millage rate determined?
The Forsyth County Board of Education adopted the school millage rate of 18.718 mills – 17.3 mills for maintenance and operations and 1.418 mills – Tuesday, June 28 following a public hearing.
The school millage rate is combined with the county millage rate, proposed at 7.896 mills – 4.791 mills for county maintenance and operations, 2.175 mills for the fire rate and .930 mills for the bond rate – for the total millage rate of 26.614 mills for 2023, down from a total of 27.617 mills in 2021 and 2022.
Three public hearings for the county millage rate will be held at the Forsyth County Administration Building, located at 11 E. Main Street, from 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., Thursday, July 7, and at 6 p.m., Thursday, July 21.
The rate is planned to be adopted at the commissioner’s regular meeting at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, July 21.
One mill equals $1 for every $10,000 in assessed property value, which is 40 percent of the actual market value.
The overall millage rate and property values are used to determine owners’ property taxes.
What the officials had to say
Near the beginning of the meeting, John described how tax assessments are done by the board of assessors, which are appointed by commissioners but governed by the state, and the chief appraiser and takes into account surrounding home values based on sale prices and other information.
“Typically, if you live within a subdivision, they will look at sales within your subdivision,” John said. “Let’s say they have 300 homes and two homes sold, then they look at that. I even asked the question, ‘What if no homes sold in your subdivision of 300 homes?’ They said they look at your immediate locality and try to find similar homes that sold and base it on that.”
He said he spoke with the board of assessors and chief appraiser, who operate under state guidelines, to see if there was any way to spread the increase over the next few years but was told that was not possible.
“What they did mention to me was they looked at all the counties in the metro Atlanta area, and all of them were [an increase of] anywhere between 13% and 20%, so none of them were spreading it out, so they decided to increase it all at once,” he said.
John said he had heard from several in the community that commissioners were responsible for the increase but the only portion of the tax bill handled by the BOC is the millage rate, which has remained consistent in recent years.
He added that the increases were due to rising home prices and extra revenues coming into the county would be used to pay down the county’s bond debt, shortening how long taxpayers will pay for those bonds.
Semanson said if assessors artificially lowered the values of homes, it could put the county at risk of not receiving funding from the state from taxes that were already paid.
She added that her assessment also increased this year and the majority of that went toward schools.
“The extra additional burden on my home for the county portion is $28 for next year,” she said. “The extra additional portion on my school portion is closer to $800, that’s because it doesn’t have a floating homestead.”
Semanson said residents can appeal their assessments though she said it is possible the values could increase after the appeal.
Another proposed funding source for schools raised in the meeting was impact fees, or fees paid by developers for the impact their developments will have on local infrastructure.
School impact fees are not allowed currently in Georgia, though Dolezal said he had previously pushed in the state Senate for the fees in 2020 and was planning to do so again next year.
“The general view of this among some of my colleagues is that it’s, quote, ‘another tax increase.’ I’ve explained every which way from Sunday how this was not a tax increase… and I’m going to drop legislation again next year, give it another shot. We’ve got a lot of new people, and I’ve got a little more experience and influence than I had a couple years ago.”
All members of the panel said they were in favor of both a floating homestead exemption for schools and school impact fees.