(Forsyth County, GA) Forsyth County Board of Education Member Mike Valdes said he supports rolling back the millage rate by two mills and implementing a floating homestead exemption during a panel event on Tuesday, June 6 to bring some relief to skyrocketing property taxes.
Earlier this year, the Board of Education announced it would roll back the millage rate by one mill after they received backlash to this year’s proposed budget, which included a $59 million increase as compared to last year.
The Board of Education said it would consider rolling it back even further after a public input meeting on May 25 where several people said one mill wasn’t enough. Forsyth County Republican Party Chairwoman Mendy Moore also presented the board with a resolution calling for a rollback of two mills at the meeting.
The Republican Party hosted the Property Tax Forum on Tuesday, June 6 to allow local elected officials to address the issue.
- State Senator Greg Dolezal
- State Representative Carter Barrett
- Commissioner Alfred John
- Commissioner Laura Semanson
- Board of Education Member Mike Valdes
- Board of Education Member Lindsey Adams
- Board of Assessors Member Rupal Vaishnav
Panel members talked about how property assessments are made, why they are so high, the Board of Education budget and what can be done to lower property taxes.
While Valdes said he was only speaking for himself, many of the other panel members were in agreement with him about lowering the millage rate and having a floating homestead exemption. State Senator Greg Dolezal originally approached the Board of Education with the idea of a homestead exemption in 2019.
State Representative Carter Barrett also took action to find a solution earlier in the year by sponsoring a bill that would allow for a referendum vote on implementing a floating homestead exemption on the Board of Education side of property taxes. It was signed by Governor Brian Kemp on May 1.
With the growth of the county being a contributor to the rise in property taxes, Dolezal said he recently introduced legislation he hopes to get passed this year that would allow the Board of Education to collect taxes elsewhere besides property taxes.
“It will change the Georgia Constitution to allow the Board of Education to implement levy impact fees or a taxing mechanism that allows them to tax developers for their pro rata fair share of the impacts on whatever the infrastructure is,” Dolezal said.
The Board of Education will make a final decision on the budget and millage rate on Thursday, June 29 at 5 p.m.
Along with discussing solutions to the high property taxes, panel members also made sure to address misunderstandings in how property assessments work and why this year’s proposed Board of Education budget is so high.
The Forsyth County Board of Assessors works independently of the Board of Commissioners and must follow state laws concerning assessments.
Board of Assessor Member Rupal Vaishnav explained that a statistical analysis of the property is done after the fair market value of the property is determined.
“Once they have done their statistical analysis there are two ratios they have to be between,” Vaishnav said. “The state department of revenue governs that process and you have a low and a high and the low is .8 and the high is 1.1, I believe. We were at .98 when we did the statistical analysis which means we’re right dead smack in the middle.”
The assessors cannot use the previous year’s assessment, they have to use the fair market value for the current year.
Property owners have 45 days after receiving their assessment notice to make an appeal if they feel the assessment is not right. A staff member will then go out and inspect the property to determine if the assessment was accurate and then report their findings back to the Board of Assessors, who then make the final decision.
Homeowners still not satisfied with the assessment can go to the superior court of the county to appeal again. If successful, they will get a three year freeze on the value of their property.
When it comes to understanding assessments, Commissioner Laura Semanson said that property owners who look at the breakdown of the tax bill under the county side will see tax categories for fire, maintenance & operations and bond debt. The bond debt is the only category that would see an increase.
“Everything except the bond debt is actually locked in by a floating homestead exemption,” Semanson said. “What does that mean? It means that if you bought a house for $300,000 and that’s what you locked in at and it goes up to $500,000, you’re still taxed based on that locked in rate for those two items.”
She said the bond debt portion is the smallest portion of the county taxes and they are actively working on eliminating that category.
As an example of how small a number this is, Semansons said her tax bill increased by $1,200 this year, $65 of which went to the bond debt.
With the county side of the taxes barely budging due to the floating homestead exemption, many are looking at the Board of Education for tax relief.
High property assessments
Valdes noted that while about 75 percent of property taxes do go to the school system, actually lowering the taxes is more of a whole government issue.
But first Valdes addressed the $59 million raise in this year’s proposed budget.
He said $30 million of the $59 million is “mandated” by the state, but also paid by the state.
“Of those $59 million over $30 [million] are, for lack of a better word, mandated by the state but also funded by the state,” Valdes said. “So that shows…that we're spending an extra $30 million. We are, but the state is paying basically for all of that, so that shows a spending increase. People see that and by default say ‘why the heck are you guys spending so much money?’ We are spending more but it’s not exactly how it seems.”
Almost 90 percent of the remaining funds are going towards staff, cost of living adjustments and teacher investments. The district recently added 85 new positions in order to match the student/teacher ratio required in classrooms.
He also addressed rumors that the district had $118 million in contingency, which he said is an accounting number.
“The only way the school system has $118 million in cash is if it calls in all of its assets and pays out all of its liabilities, then there's $118 million left over,” Valdes said. “That account sits at around $30 to $40 million cash balance. Typically, the way our monies come in, they come in almost seasonal, so there's a period of the year where everybody's paying their property taxes and we get a bunch of money and then the rest of it trickles in throughout the year.”
He does not advocate adding more money to contingency funds.
While Valdes believes taxes do need to be lowered and spending needs to be controlled, inflation and county growth (which adds more students to the school system) are major contributors to the problem.
“We also need to stop growing at the rate that we're growing,” Valdes said. “The school system does not create demand, we do not create students…we do not determine how many people can move here and we do not determine how many units can be built. But we have to educate every single child that steps foot and lodges in Forsyth County.”
The Board of Education is having two more public input sessions concerning the budget and millage rate at the Board of Education building on 1120 Dahlonega Highway.
- Thursday, June 15 at 5 p.m. (budget) and 5:30 p.m. (millage)
- Thursday, June 22 at 9 a.m. (millage) and 7 p.m. (millage)
If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Justine Lookenott at email@example.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @justalookenott.