Unincorporated property taxes set at 8.82 mills, 9.96 mills in incorporated areas
Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor presided over two public hearings Wednesday concerning a proposed millage rate reduction.
“The proposal would be for an 8.82 millage rate in the unincorporated area and a 9.96 millage rate in the incorporated area,” said Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson.
Such is the first time the County millage rate has been reduced since 2015. For the last five years the millage rates have been set at 10.30 mills and 9.02 mills, respectively, for homeowners in incorporated and unincorporated Bartow.
Due to gains in the County digest, Olson said Georgia law requires the local government to advertise such as an “increase” in Bartow’s property tax rate. Overall, Bartow’s total digest increased from about $3.9 billion in 2019 to about $4.4 billion in 2020; along the way, the County’s total tax levy likewise increased from about $37.3 million to an estimated $41.3 million.
“We have to advertise it as an increase because the overall value of reassessments in the digest went up more than the amount we’re cutting, which is the same situation we face every year,” Olson said. “If you have any gain in the overall value of the digest, if you don’t roll back your millage rate to give it all back, then they say that’s a tax increase.”
Taylor contrasted Bartow’s millage rate with several surrounding counties. He noted that the proposed 2020 millage rate for unincorporated Bartow is about 28% lower than the unincorporated millage rate set for Paulding, 30% lower than the one set for Cobb and about 34% lower than Floyd County’s unincorporated millage rate.
While Cherokee County has a millage rate just 2% higher than the one in Bartow County, both Olson and Taylor noted that the median home value there is almost $100,000 higher.
“The advantage Bartow has, I think, and the reason we are less, is because we’re doing a good job recruiting industry,” Taylor said. "They’re carrying a lot of the freight for us in paying for the school system, especially since their millage is about twice what ours is.”
A public notice issued by the County government indicates that, under the proposed 2020 millage rate, an unincorporated home with a fair market value of $175,000 would see a roughly $44 increase in property taxes, while a similarly-assessed home in incorporated portions of the county would see a roughly $55.30 increase to the yearly Bartow property tax bill.
“There’s a lot confusing about property tax and it’s not a perfect system, it’s just the system we have under State law,” Olson said. “We feel like we run a lean government, we don’t have a lot of excessive programs — we were fortunate, I think, in this county to be able to keep the millage rate as low as it is.”
Overall, Olson said the median home value in Bartow County increased from about $170,000 to $190,000 over the previous year.
“Housing values around the whole metro area are jumping,” he said. “Gwinnett County’s budget is like $1.5 billion, and ours is about $120 million … but at the rates you’re paying, if you pick up your house and set it in Gwinnett, it’s probably going to be twice as expensive, and the rate of taxes you’re paying is even higher as a percent of that.”
It’s an imprecise measurement, but Olson said those in Bartow County who reside in homes assessed at $150,000 should anticipate a total County property tax bill in the ballpark of $500.
Taylor noted that some counties — among them, Douglas, Gordon, Polk and Whitfield — have median home values lower than that of Bartow, yet still have higher unincorporated millage rates.
“It’s really a good thing,” Taylor said of Bartow’s most recent property assessments. ”Do you want to be in a growing county or do you want to be in a county that’s not growing and your home value’s going down, and you lose everything you have as far as equity in your home goes?”
Since 2015, Bartow County’s total annual digest has increased by more than $1.3 billion, while the County’s total annual tax levy has increased by $11.7 million.
Over that same timeframe, the value of real and personal property in Bartow increased from about $1.27 billion annually to around $1.9 billion in incorporated portions of the county; in unincorporated areas, that amount increased from about $1.73 billion annually to almost $2.6 billion.
Overall, the gross digest in incorporated Bartow increased from about $1.3 billion in 2015 to about $1.95 billion in 2020. The gross digest in unincorporated Bartow increased even more dramatically, swelling from about $2.16 billion in 2015 to $3.03 billion in 2020.
Olson noted that the Georgia Legislature approved a resolution
to make a potential doubling of the County homestead exemption a ballot item for this fall’s election. If approved by Bartow County voters in November, the measure would increase Bartow’s exemption amount from $5,000 to $10,000.
“That means it will take $25,000 off your fair market value in 2021,” he said. “I expect it will pass, because usually, people vote for tax decreases.”
The two public hearings on Wednesday — the first held at 10 a.m. and the second held at 6 p.m. — drew few residents. Ultimately, less than half a dozen members of the public turned out for both meetings.
A third and final public hearing is slated for Thursday, July 30 at 10 a.m. at the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center at 135 West Cherokee Ave. in Cartersville.
“I can go ahead and tell you, next year, we’re probably going to have to advertise another tax increase,” Taylor said. “This county’s growing way more than a lot of other counties, and because of that growth we have revenue growth and an increase in property values.”