The Henry County Board of Commissioners held a public meeting at 6:00 p.m., on Monday, July 12, 2004, in the Community Room, County Administration Building, 140 Henry Parkway, McDonough, Georgia.  Notice of this meeting was posted on the bulletin board in the entrance foyer of the County Administration Building.  The Daily Herald was notified of this meeting.  Those present were:


          Leland Maddox, Chairman, presiding

          Lee Holman, Vice-Chairman/District V Commissioner

          Gary M. Freedman, District II Commissioner

          Jason T. Harper, District III Commissioner


          Patrick Jaugstetter, County Attorney; Linda G. Angus, County Manager; Rob Magnaghi, Deputy County Manager/Public Safety Division Director; Shay Mathis, Deputy County Clerk; LaTonya Nix Wiley, Deputy County Attorney; Andy Pipkin, Tax Commissioner; and others.


          Commissioner Holman made a motion to accept the agenda as published; Commissioner Harper seconded; and the motion passed by a vote of 3-0, with Commissioners Freedman, Harper and Holman in favor.


          Chairman Maddox announced the purpose of this meeting is to hold a public hearing on the millage rate.  Mr. Pipkin provided a handout to the Board and audience members.


          Mr. Pipkin stated the purpose of this meeting is as follows:


          “The Tax Assessors put a value on property.  They put, supposedly, a fair market value on each piece of property.  Anything that is reappraised is existing property that they may change the value on.  Growth happens to be something new.  You cannot have new land, so it’s going to be somebody puts in a swimming pool, somebody finishes a basement, may add a room onto their house, they may build a house, they may build any structure; that would be growth.  Something that’s new that did not exist.  Reappraisal is taking the house that was here and changing the value. 


“The State law says that if you reappraise property, whatever percent you reappraise that property, you have to lower the millage rate by that same percent or have hearings so that the public will know why you are not lowering that millage rate by that percent.  As an example here, 11.24 is the unincorporated millage rate.  To lower that to 11.162, we could have done that and not had the hearings and each area has that same example.  So, if they are not going to lower the millage rate because of the budget, then they have these hearings.


“The School Board is also having these hearings.  I was at one of their hearings this morning.  They had a hearing at 9:00 this morning, so they are doing the same thing again tonight at 6:30.  By going through that, does anyone on the Board or anyone in the audience have any questions about the process and why it exists?” 


            Commissioner Freedman stated “our property taxes are too high, but millage is what is being discussed tonight.  He said the School Board gets 65% of the property taxes.  Out of that remaining 35%, 2 mills goes to the Water Authority to service bond debt, 1 mill goes to the Hospital for indigent care.  That bond debt is court-tested situation, people have challenged that in the past, it has been court-tested, it is valid because they expand our water and sewer based on growth, based on bonds they issue and have to service that debt and, therefore, that is bond debt that requires 2 mills of that.  So out of $1,000 in property taxes, we get less than $300.  That does not pay one policeman’s wages for one week much less parks, roads, senior center, libraries, more roads, more roads, all the things we do in the County including your police, fire and all the things we have to do.  So our property taxes really are not our salvation.  When it says we raise the millage, in fact, we did not raise the millage but as Andy Pipkin said, because of the fact the millage stayed the same in effect, it is a raise.  So they have to, by law, and the law is very specific and he does not have a choice on how he can word it when he advertises it in the paper.  Last year we did not touch the millage at all and he still had to advertise that we raised the millage because the law requires that.   It certainly does not look good for us because, in fact, we didn’t raise it, but I will tell you frequently the School Board has the authority to raise millage in order to cover the cost of schools and they do, and we don’t have any say in that.  Basically the School Board has the right to assess millage.”


          Commissioner Freedman said he gets this “question all the time.  I’ve been sitting up here eight years and I’ve been hearing the same question for about six of the years when they changed the law to say you have to say you raised it.  That’s two of the issues.  The third issue is appraisals.  By law our Tax Assessors must go out and appraise property.  Four years ago I sat in a meeting at the State level to find out why we have to appraise property all the time and, in fact, very little property in Henry County goes down in value.  In a growing county your property gets more valuable just as it does everybody up here, and all our taxes go up and I can tell you I think I cannot afford mine and I’m sure a lot of you feel the same way.  If they don’t go out and reassess property, our County is fined double every property we do not reassess.”


          Mr. Pipkin said each mill is worth $4.7 million.  He said once millage rates are set by the Board, $51 million, which is a $4 million increase from last year, will be levied.  He said this is the least increase the County has had in several years, so there was less reassessment this year than in the last several years.


          Ms. Judy O’Riley, 103 Golf Terrace Drive, asked for an explanation about the increased taxes.  Mr. Pipkin stated anything reassessed, whatever percent, the total tax goes up.  He said reassessments raise individual’s taxes.  Ms. O’Riley stated she has concerns about her assessment going up because she is not sure she could sell her house for the assessed value.


          Commissioner Harper stated last year the millage rate was 11.24 and the millage rate this year is 11.24.  He noted the tax rate did not go up, but there have been increases based on property reassessments.  He said the law says we average them out and roll the millage back, so if the reassessments go up, the millage must be cut a certain amount to offset a tax increase.  He said rolling back the millage will not ensure all taxes go down because of disproportionate assessments.  He said it is hard to cure the inequity.


          Commissioner Freedman stated he has heard from many people their assessments are higher than they could sell their property.  He asked Ms. O’Riley if she appealed her tax assessment.  Ms. O’Riley said she successfully appealed two years ago.  Commissioner Freedman said the Tax Assessors usually use comparables when assessing property. 


          Commissioner Harper said for two years the Board has sent a Bill to the Georgia General Assembly asking that the tax values be frozen at current levels.  He said several counties in Georgia do that whereby the tax assessors still go out every year and revalue homes, but for as long as you own your home you are locked in at the current value.  He said when the home is sold, the new homeowner gets the current assessed value at the date of sale.  He said that is truth in taxation.  Commissioner Harper said the Bill did not get introduced the first year.  He said it was introduced the second year, but the Board of Education did not wish to participate in the Bill because if values were frozen, they would be locked in, so the legislative delegation killed the Bill.  He said the Board has agreed, if on January 1 a majority of this Board will vote to support the Bill again, to leave the Board of Education portion out of the Bill.  Commissioner Harper said it will work because the number of new homes and businesses coming into the County, the tax digest will grow.   Mr. Pipkin stated this matter, which excludes the Board of Education, is on the November ballot. 


          Mr. Harley Lowe, 171 Hampton Lake Drive, Hampton, stated the data provided reflects the lowest millage rate is Stockbridge and the highest is Hampton.  Mr. Pipkin stated Hampton and Locust Grove are the highest two because they have less growth percentage wise than anyone else.  Mr. Lowe said “so we’re using less County services because we have less growth, yet we’re being penalized for that.”  He said there is a tremendous disparity between the cities.  Mr. Pipkin stated the City of Stockbridge had a lot of growth and the City of Hampton and Locust Grove did not.  He noted Stockbridge had $694,000 in reassessment and $64 million in growth.  He noted Hampton had $7.2 million in reassessment and $4.3 million in growth. 


          Commissioner Harper explained the current millage rate in Hampton is 9.46 mills and the proposed millage rate is exactly the same.  He said what the law requires to prevent having these hearings is to roll back the millage to 8.56.  Chairman Maddox asked whether each City sets its own millage.  Mr. Pipkin said it is based on House Bill 489, which is the Services Delivery legislation.


          Mr. Dan LeMay stated he agrees with Mr. Lowe’s comments.  He said he moved here three years ago and his assessment has increased $10,000 and $20,000 during the last three years consistently.  He said the increased assessment, water use increase, plus the School bonds and stormwater fee, are unfair.  He said he will have to move out of Henry County in the future because of the tax base.  Commissioner Harper noted the Board did not approve the stormwater fee.  Commissioner Freedman said if the Bill referenced by Commissioner Harper passes in November and is enacted, it will help taxpayers.


          Commissioner Freedman stated police and fire services have been increased.  He noted one ladder truck costs over $1 million.  He said road improvements are requested every day. 


          Mr. LeMay asked whether the commercial growth on Jonesboro Road helped the tax base or whether they were given long-term tax exemptions.  Commissioner Freedman said by law the Board cannot give tax breaks.  He said the commercial on Jonesboro Road has increased sales tax revenue $1 million per month. 


          Commissioner Harper said the formula previously was for every $1 paid in residential tax, the County provided $3 in services; and for every $3 in income earned from a commercial business, the County only provided $1 in service.  He stated commercial establishments bring in far more money than they use in services.


          Mr. Mitchell Green, 165 Tiffany Court, Locust Grove, stated he disagrees with the way the increase has been explained.  He said with the increased assessments, without this meeting, the millage rate is supposed to be rolled back accordingly. 


          Commissioner Holman said the Board adopted a budget earlier this year which was based on the increase in the digest.  He said the millage is being held constant.  He said if the Board would adopt a budget like last year, the millage rate would have to go down.  He said because of the growth, citizens pay more taxes and the Board spends more.  Mr. Green asked why Henry County cannot live on the 9 percent growth. Commissioner Freedman said all Commissioners get calls about roads and needed improvements.  He said the budget is only $7 million over last year without increasing anything.  He said there are $33 million in requests.  He said that may be the burden and curse of a growing county.


          The Board thanked the approximately 25 people in the Community Room for attending this meeting.


          Commissioner Holman made a motion to adjourn (6:58 p.m.); Commissioner Harper seconded; and the motion passed by a vote of 3-0, with Commissioners Harper, Freedman and Holman in favor.


                                                          Leland Maddox, Chairman


Susan B. Craig, County Clerk