Members of the Euharlee City Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to approve advertising a property tax increase — although the municipality’s elected officials indicated they have little desire to actually raise Euharlee’s millage rate.
Euharlee City Manager James Stephens explained the situation.
“[The Georgia Property Taxpayer's Bill of Rights] requires that local governments calculate the equivalent of the prior year’s tax levy,” he said. “What that means in layman’s terms is when the assessors’ office increases the values of properties, we have to calculate the equivalent of the prior year’s digest to determine if it is an increase in tax.”
Long story short, he said if the City uses its rollback rate, the local government doesn’t have to advertise such as a tax increase — but if the City doesn’t use the rollback rate, it does have to be advertised as an increase.
“There was a 10% increase in the digest based on reassessments for Bartow County this year, especially for the Euharlee jurisdiction,” Stephens continued. “Our rollback rate calculates to 1.65 mills — if we levy the tax based on our rollback rate, our levy would bring in $162,905.”
He noted that, last year, the City rolled back to 1.819 mills.
“If we went with last year’s rate and didn’t roll back, it would generate a total levy of $179,590, which is $16,685 more than the rollback rate would generate,” he said. “If we looked at going all the way back to 2 mills, which taxpayers have paid here, it would generate a total levy of $197,480.”
Making things even more complex, Stephens said whatever the City advertises as the millage rate is the maximum amount the local government is legally allowed to set for the year.
“If we advertise an increase, we’ll have three public hearings, ya’ll will have feedback and you may end up setting a lesser rate than what we actually advertised,” he said. “Just because you advertise an increase doesn’t mean you can’t ultimately assess the rollback rate.”
The council — with Councilman Tim Abbott absent — ultimately voted to advertise the City’s millage rate as 2 mills.
With so much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, Councilman Tracy Queen said advertising the property tax increase was the best course of action for the City to take — even if the local government doesn’t actually press forward with the proposed millage rate.
Still, he said he couldn’t help but feel disheartened.
“This is the year we were supposed to go down,” he said, “and this is disappointing, at best.”
Stephens said the City’s May sales tax collection was down 7%. He added that he anticipates this month’s final numbers to be even steeper, but indicated the forecast for the year’s total tax collections may not be as gloomy as previously predicted.
“I do anticipate June to be down 15%,” he said. “I had sent communications to the council saying I was prepared for a 15% reduction in, basically, the whole revenue, and it does look like it’s not going to be quite that impactful.”
Still, he said he expects the City to dip into its reserves to offset revenue shortfalls.
“I would anticipate we possibly will have to use some fund balance,” he said. “When we get to the 2019 budget amendments, we did increase the fund balance by $30,000.”
The council also voted unanimously to amend a policy to increase Euharlee Police Department (EPD) personnel vacation time to 84 hours.
"The work they did during this COVID thing, I think they deserve the additional four hours," said Councilman David Duncan. "[They] don't get seven full days of vacation time, they only get six days plus eight hours of comp time or whatever else you have."
Stephens said the policy amendment doesn't constitute an immediate cash outlay, nor does it hit the City's working or operating capital.
"Officers would not be compensated upon separation if they separate prior to Jan. 1, 2021," he said. "If they leave before Dec. 31 of this year, they would not be paid the balance of this category of leave."
Under the policy, the EPD's non-patrol employees would still have 80 hours of vacation time.
"Every police officer, I'm sure, appreciates what ya'll are doing," said EPD Chief Jody Matthews. "We've got a lot of community support throughout this time, and with the things going on in the world that they are, we certainly appreciate the support that we get from the citizens, and the council and mayor."