Members of the Euharlee City Council voted unanimously to advertise the local property tax rate at 1.652 mills at a public meeting Tuesday evening.
“If we set the [millage rate] at 1.652, which is the calculated rollback based on growth in the assessment, our total tax levy will be $158,000, give or take a dollar, and that’s what it was last year,” said Euharlee City Manager James Stephens. “But you, as an individual taxpayer, if your house assessment didn’t go up, then your taxes will actually go down by about 10%.”
“We had received a preliminary consolidated digest from the tax assessors’ office and discussed the fact that our equivalent rollback rate was approximately 1.6 mills,” Stephens said. “Through May 30, if the last six months operated on budget, we were looking at a $29,000 deficit — based on the impact of COVID on our residents, I felt like that we could absorb that, considering the rollback rate.”
However, Stephens said updated financials through June indicate the City may only be looking at a $15,000 deficit that would have to be patched up with accumulated fund balance, noting that local option sales tax (LOST) revenue is “closer to budget” than anticipated.
Stephens said the City did utilize a rollback rate of 1.819 mills last year.
“If we advertise the 1.819 that we billed last year, we still have to advertise that as a tax increase, per Georgia code,” he said. “But what we do advertise is absolutely the maximum that we can actually end up assessing for the tax levy.”
Going with that 1.819 millage rate, he said, would add an extra $17,000 to the City coffers. Bumping it up to 2 mills, he said, would increase the amount to $32,000 and put the local government’s projected property tax revenue at a little under $200,000.
Councilman David Duncan said he was initially apprehensive about setting the millage rate cap at 1.652 mills.
“I don’t like taxes and I don’t want taxes, but we went through this last year and I don’t want to keep bouncing back and forth,” he said. “I don’t want us to get into a bind and need the money and say it will go up, because we don’t know with this COVID stuff how much longer it’s going to last, and how it’s going to affect us.”
In response, Stephens said “the bottom would have to fall out tremendously” for the City to even contemplate raising the property tax rate ahead of a joint city council/planning and zoning commission work session scheduled for Aug. 18.
Mayor Steve Worthington also weighed in on the matter.
“We promised the people we would do everything we can within two years to start getting rid of that 2 mills tax that we assessed on our community,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to get rid of all of it this year, but we’re making it an effort to get it as low as we can … I know things change and times get tough, but I try to be a man of my word.”
Councilman Tim Abbott ultimately made the motion to set the new advertised rate for the City’s property taxes.
“I’m not in favor of advertising at 1.819 just to play it safe,” he said. “I think the City has to do more to help generate revenue for these times.”
The council also opted to table a decision on amendments to the City’s recreational vehicle (RV) ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting, punting the proposed changes back to the Euharlee Planning and Zoning Commission for further review.
“Recreational vehicles parked in any residential zone or residentially-used area shall not be permitted to be parked in any required setback or buffer area, nor in any front yard area,” Euharlee Planning and Zoning Administrator Charles Reese read the proposed changes.
However, it was a secondary proposed amendment — one that would only allow RVs to be parked in front yards if on a driveway — that concerned Stephens.
“The intent is to have it only in a driveway if it is in the front yard,” he said. “I just think this last clause confuses that.”
Euharlee Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Eric Smithey agreed that the verbiage sounded contradictory — and open to legal interpretation.
“If you questioned it, someone else could, a judge could, as well,” he said. “Some driveways are not in the front yard, that’s the other thing.”
Abbott asked how many residents in Euharlee are estimated to be in violation of the City’s current RV ordinance. Stephens said that, in just one subdivision he’s aware of, he could possibly pinpoint eight.
“This clarification, I believe, would rectify all of those non-compliant issues,” he said. “I prefer that ordinance be amended rather than having administrative variances.”
Abbott said he agreed that pushing the proposed ordinance amendments back to the planning and zoning commission was the best course of action to take.
“To me, it might be more than just RVs, whether it’s cars that don’t run or properties that haven’t been kept up per code,” he said. “I actually agree with the ordinance, that we should address what our neighborhoods look like … but I also don’t want to be so near-sighted that I don’t have a wealth of knowledge about other things that could be going on that we’re not enforcing and we find ourselves just kind of cherry picking.”