Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor approved the first countywide millage rate reductions since 2015 at a public meeting on Thursday morning.
The property tax rate in incorporated Bartow decreased from 10.30 mills to 9.96 mills, while the property tax rate in unincorporated Bartow decreased from 9.02 mills to 8.82 mills.
“I think we’re really lucky to be where we are, as far as the revenues go,” Taylor said. “Our sales tax revenue is only off slightly, maybe around 4% … which, considering the times, that’s pretty good.”
Bartow’s total net taxes ultimately increased by about $4 million over the last year, according to County projections.
“Homes sales last month jumped, like, 30-something percent, I think it was,” said Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson. “And prices are still going up.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding economic downturn, Olson said the local housing market remains hot.
“There’s not a lot of inventory and things that go on the market, in most reasonable price ranges, sell really fast,” he said. “I’ve even heard of high-end houses selling fast, so I think there’s some more legs in this growth trend.”
Olson noted that the unincorporated millage rates for several neighboring counties — including Floyd, Gordon and Paulding — are higher than the one set for Bartow County. He also noted that the median home values in several of those counties — particularly, Cobb and Cherokee — are roughly $100,000 higher than in the local community.
On the whole, Bartow’s total real and personal property values in incorporated sections of the county increased from about $1.68 billion in 2019 to $1.91 billion in 2020. During that same one-year period, total real and personal property values in unincorporated Bartow increased from $2.27 billion to $2.53 billion.
Comparatively, Olson said Bartow’s economy is doing quite well in the face of the coronavirus-spawned recession.
“You’ve got millions of yards of dirt moving around in this county,” he said. “You’ve got the Wellmade project
getting underway, the IDI project out there on Cass-White, Panattoni’s finishing up that spec building — there’s 2,700 jobs in the pipeline, just in the last four years of economic development.”
Those rosy numbers, Olson said, don’t take into account the “organic growth” experienced by Bartow’s smaller businesses.
“Our workforce has grown from 32,000 to 41,000 in about eight years, and you’ve got to conclude that if people are working here, they might start wanting to look around and live here rather than commute from further away,” he said. “So I think that provides upper pressure on the houses.”
At this point, Taylor said he believes Bartow’s industrial pipeline is “pretty full,” with several projects coming down the line which may not hit the County’s tax digest until 2022 or later.
“We’ve really got a lot of interest, especially in times like this,” he said. ”The activity is really robust right now as far as industrial projects go.”
The County, Olson said, is also seeing more revenue as tax abatements roll off for major industrial developments.
“Projects like Surya, voestalpine, Beauflor, they got 10-year or 15-year abatements,” he said. “Each year, we kind of have that money in the bank … another chunk of these projects hit the digest, it’s probably $100 million a year that would hit the digest.”
From 2017 onward, Olson said the Cartersville-Bartow County Department of Economic Development has worked on roughly 25 projects, entailing both expansions and totally new developments. Combined, he said those projects represent about $1 billion in total economic investments in the community.
Bartow is well positioned for future industrial growth, Taylor said, thanks in no small part to its geographical “sweet spot” in the metro Atlanta area.
“Cobb County doesn’t have any big tracts that they can develop, everything’s gone down that way,” he said. “So the next logical move — north of Atlanta working towards Chattanooga — is Bartow County, so we’re getting a lot of projects that other communities are not getting.”
Outside of hotels, Taylor said he couldn’t think of any local industries that would anticipate diminishing values in the year ahead.
Even with the economic uncertainty hanging overhead, Olson said he’s optimistic the County will meet its current fiscal year budget. Indeed, he said he anticipates the cumulative impact of the coronavirus crisis on Bartow’s residential and commercial properties to be anything but catastrophic.
“I don’t anticipate that there’s going to be a huge, long-term impact on property values from COVID-19, and property taxes are half our budget,” he said. “A lot of people think we’re going to be past this by next year, so I don’t see anything too dire.”