During Thursday night's work session and special called meeting, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners voted to keep the current millage rate unchanged following the third and final required public hearing.
Following a 3-to-1 vote with District 2 Commissioner James Swafford dissenting, the board decided the county's current millage rate of 8.138 will remain unchanged for the 2016-2017 year and effectively raise property taxes 4.32 percent over the rollback millage rate.
Each year, the county assesses the millage rate and can decide to increase, decrease or roll back the millage rate and keep the property tax amount the same as the previous year. When house prices go up and millage rates stay the same, more tax money is collected because the properties are worth more. This appears to be a tax increase because homeowners will pay more property tax than the previous year since their homes have gone up in value.
Charlie Tarver, board member at the Dawson County Development Authority, spoke during the meeting about needs he saw in the county that made a tax increase necessary. Tarver said one issue is that there isn't enough fire protection in the western part of the county.
"I really question that we need to do the rollback at this given time." he said. "I appreciate the reopening of fire station 3 since it services my home, but there is in fact only two people on duty at any one time at that station."
Tarver also cited uncertainty in the future of the economy, the need for additional funds to conduct a new wage survey in the county and the costs associated with hiring a new judge as reasons not to lower the millage rate.
"I mentioned last time that the savings would be pretty meager to me," Tarver told commissioners. "Everybody is getting a tax rollback because the school board lowered their rates. They raised them a few years back, they needed the money then, they spent the money, now they're rolling it back. So every homeowner will get a reduction anyway."
Tarver said that keeping the rate the same would mean "an increase of about the cost of one and a half Diet Cokes at McDonald's.
"It's not anything that's really going to make anyone's life change," he said.
District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Hamby agreed that there is inadequate fire protection on the west side of the county, and that there is too much being left undone to warrant a roll back on taxes.
"We've got roads and bridges that are way behind, and a lot of things we need to catch up on," Hamby said. "When the economy was down, we didn't go up on the taxes and kept the millage rate the same. It's better now to get these challenges because when the economy goes down and no one has got any money, we'll have to ask people for more tax money to fix these things. It's time to quit putting a Band-Aid on it."
"This is a tough decision to leave the tax rate the way it is," Tarver said, "I would just remind you that it's time to quit putting a patch on the inner tube and buy a new one. Let's invest in the future of Dawson County."
District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett agreed with keeping the tax rate the same, and called attention to the tax assessor's office long-standing proposal of a total re-evaluation all the parcels of land in Dawson County.
The process would aim to ensure that the tax evaluation for each parcel is accurate, and would cost anywhere from $500,000 to $750,000.
Fausett said she was worried that if the re-evaluation did not occur, the state's department of revenue would fine the county five dollars for every parcel of land, and there are 15,000 parcels total. The commissioner said she is concerned with the taxes being fair for citizens, starting with the tax re-evaluation.
"We can't keep putting that off and putting that off," she said. "The department of revenue is there to make sure that we have fair and uniform taxation and that is what we need for the agricultural, commercial and residential landowners. I know especially the agricultural is really out of whack."
Chairman Mike Berg said that the tax commissioners have not done a total re-evaluation in 10 years, but every three years will assess the parcels in one area, such as all farm parcels or all lake parcels. He said that the county is not in danger of being fined, as the county assesses their parcels between 38 and 44 percent of fair market value, the range of percentages allowed by law.
Berg said he doesn't know if the re-evaluation will happen this year.
"We're in the budget process, and I've not determined yet if I'm going to put that in the budget or not, and [the commission] would vote on that at the end of it anyway," Berg said.