County Boss Ted Rumley (right) speaks to taxpayers at last week's millage rate hearings.
Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley and the county commission played to a friendly crowd at last Thursday’s millage rate hearings. More “friendly” than “crowd,” actually--one lone citizen showed up at the noon hearing, then returned for the 6 p.m. session, accompanied this time by eight or nine others.
Though the Dade County Commission is this year actually lowering the millage rate--the percentage by which the eligible portion of property values is multiplied to derive real estate taxes--from 14.860 to 14.573, the commission’s decision to “accept growth” in property values rather than further lower the rate is expected to generate a slight uptick in tax revenues. That legally requires the commission to hold hearings, and to post public notice of the increase.
Citizens said they’d showed up because of a notice in print that taxes would go up 4 percent. So the newspaper lied? they asked.
Not exactly, said Rumley. “A mill is worth a little more now,” he said. “Things aren’t great but it’s better than it used to be when we were all crying around because we’d lost a plant.”
Because of the increase in value, even with the reduction of the millage rate, 2018 property taxes on a $100,000 home are expected to go up about $3.72 in the unincorporated county, $6.36 in Trenton. Rumley called on County Clerk Don Townsend to explain the notice read by the public.
Townsend showed the audience the complicated calculation page from Georgia the county uses in millage calculation. “We have to run everything through the state form,” said Townsend. “We have never agreed with it and we never will.”
He described the arcane formula by which the county uses LOST (local option sales tax) collections to reduce property taxes. LOST is down, he said. “We’re not collecting that much more taxes, we just have to compensate for LOST,” said Townsend.
One man stood up to protest that his taxes were $1800 a year when a neighbor similarly situated paid less. “When you’re paying $150 a month to live in your own house, something’s wrong,” he said. He seemed particularly irked by the school tax part of his bill, which in Dade makes up the lion’s share.
“I’m paying for somebody’s kids to go to school when they don’t pay no tax, because they live in a mobile home,” he complained.
Fortunately for those with similar sentiments, Dade still has the “65/5” tax exemption, which allows homeowners over 65 to exclude their house and up to five acres around it from the school tax. Rumley asked if the taxpayer knew about it and offered to sit down with him and the tax appraiser. “They can lay it on the table for you,” he said. Between the noon session and the 6 p.m. hearing, that apparently happened, because at the latter Rumley said with the exemption applied, the man’s taxes had dropped to $860-something.
Rumley at the evening session also went over another exemption, the agricultural covenant, which can save money for taxpayers who own considerable land. They may sign an agreement testifying the property will be kept in noncommercial usage and lower the tax on it substantially. “Most people do that who have any acreage at all,” said Rumley.
The taxpayers asked how often the tax assessors looked at their property. Rumley explained assessors were required to touch on every property every three years, looking for such improvements as new buildings and paved driveways. “They’re not being nosy,” he said.
Attendees asked about Vanguard, the new manufacturing plant given tax incentives by the county to bring in jobs. “At what point do they become a full taxpayer?” said one.
Rumley explained that according to the agreement, the manufacturer’s tax burden went up in increments over 10 years.
Was the manufacturer living up to its end of the bargain? the taxpayers persisted. “Are we going to get stuck like Chattanooga did?” one asked. And: “I understand they can’t keep employees.”
“It’s because of the pay rate,” said Rumley. He said wages at Vanguard were low but the benefits were great, and most jobs don’t require a high school diploma or GED. He said the county hoped to recruit other companies that would use more skilled labor and pay higher wages. He threw out a teaser that Trenton’s long-abandoned Shaw plant had been taken off the market, with the hint it might again become an important employer. He also spoke of a prospective new employer who might offer as many as 1500-1800 new jobs.
That’s all very well, said the audience, but what about the infrastructure needed to support such an influx? “Years ago, you could never have convinced me there could be a traffic jam in Trenton,” said one attendee.
Rumley said that traffic would be complicated for that matter when Vanguard got up to its projected full 450 employees and revved up to full proeduction. No promises of when, he said, but: “You’re going to that (new North Trenton I-59) exit being built.”
This was all from the front of the room. Rumley also worked the crowd, walking through the room having friendly individual chats with attendees, to the point one audience member told him: “If that was Trump and you was Putin, that would be what they call colludin’.”
If you have questions about the tax change, wish to participate in the democratic process, or just covet your own crack at colludin’ with the Boss, a final hearing on the millage rate is at 6 p.m. this Thursday at the county Administrative Building, followed by a special called Dade County Commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. to adopt the millage rate.
The Dade Board of Education, which sets its own rates, will hold its own hearings at its office in front of the high school on Highway 136 East at noon and 6 p.m. on Aug. 3 and at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 10, the latter being followed by a 6 p.m. meeting to adopt the rate.
The BOE has, like the county, elected to keep its millage rate constant (15.509), accepting the growth in the tax digest and collecting minimally more than it did in 2017.
Rumley made it clear that the county has no role in the school board's taxation decisions but is only responsible for collecting the taxes for it.