(Forsyth County, GA) A town hall meeting was held on June 29 for community officials to address the skyrocketing property taxes facing Forsyth County homeowners.
On June 7, a public notice of a tentative 15.91 percent property tax increase was released by the Forsyth County School District.
Jerry Marinich, the chairman of the FCRP, said they decided to sponsor the event so that community officials could address the confusion around the recent tax assessments as well as discuss other topics like the homestead exemption.
The topics of discussion included:
- Recent tax assessments
- Pros and cons of a floating homestead exemption
- Board of Commissioners and Board of Education budget changes
The following community officials attended the event:
- State Senator Greg Dolezal
- District 25 State Representative Todd Jones
- District 24 State Representative Sheri Gilligan
- County Commission Chairman Alfred John
- County Commissioner Laura Semanson
- Board of Education Chairman Wes McCall
- Board of Education District 5 candidate Mike Valdes
McCall was originally scheduled to attend the event but could not due to the town hall’s change in date (it was originally scheduled for the week before).
Millage rates, property taxes and homestead exemptions
To start off the event, John summarized how the tax system operates in the county.
John explained that there are three main boards in the county; the Board of Commissioners, the Board of Education and the Board of Assessors. The Board of Assessors is a five-member board appointed by the Board of Commissioners. The chief appraiser is the head of the Assessor’s Office. The Board of Assessors - not the Board of Commissioners, is in charge of hiring the chief appraiser.
He emphasized this point to highlight the level of independence the Board of Assessors has.
Tax Appraisers do assessments yearly with Georgia requiring that the assessments should be between 90 and 110 percent of the tax digest. So when appraisals are done, they have to meet that threshold.
“So that's just a quick overview of the structure because some of the comments that I've seen is that ‘the county commissioners are the ones raising the taxes,’” John said. “And it's not, the millage rate has stayed constant, it has stayed constant over the last few years. And we have no plans of raising the millage rate this year either. It's the property values that have gone up because of increased sales or increased sales values and based on that, the Tax Appraisers Offices raise the values for every assessment.”
Board of Education taxes vs. Board of Commissioners taxes
Many of the questions posed by attendees were related to the differences in how Board of Education taxes work as compared to Board of Commissioner taxes.
One of main differences has to do with the county having a homestead exemption while the Board of Education does not.
“A floating homestead exemption is an instrument mechanism that, what it does is, as your tax bill goes up and down, your assessment values go up and down,” Valdes said. “It’s a credit that grows and shrinks to make sure that the end result is that your taxes never go up more than a certain percentage year after year. So in simplistic terms, a homestead exemption is a credit that grows and shrinks, the net effect is that your taxes never increase more than, for instance, three percent.”
If a homeowner does NOT have a floating homestead exemption, Semanson said this would mean that every time his house is reassessed, his millage rate would change based on the new value of his home.
This process does not apply to the county portion of taxes since the county has a floating homestead exemption.
“Our houses go up too,” Semanson said. “Mine has gone up almost 25 percent in the last two years, [it] went up 19-something percent just this year. The extra additional burden on my home for the county portion is $28. The extra additional burden on my school portion is closer to $800. So that's because it does not have the floating homestead.”
From a county perspective, Semanson said they are doing what they can to prevent “out-of-hand” taxes.
“We can control the county portion of it,” Semanson said. “We can control our millage rate, which we have not been moving. … we did do one rollback and we have made a commitment to pay down debt so that that debt portion eventually goes away.”
Among the several other topics covered at the town hall, attendees voiced their frustration at what they said was a lack of transparency from the Board of Education concerning the school budget. Some of the speakers offered some advice on how to address that issue.
If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Justine Lookenott at email@example.com.
To learn more about property tax increases in Forsyth County, read “Forsyth County residents sound off on the proposed school millage rate.”