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Commission chair recommends full property tax rollback
A-Millage rate Berg mug

Commission Chairman Mike Berg is calling for a full millage rate rollback that, if approved, would be the county's first tax reduction in 12 years.

"It's my hope that you will approve a 7.8 millage rate so that the taxpayers can get a reduction on property tax and having sales tax kind of take up that difference, much like the fair tax that's called for by Republicans today," he told his fellow commissioners last week.

Berg said estimated sales tax revenue from the two new major retail developments on Ga. 400 and Dawson Forest Road has paved the way for his proposal to lower the county's portion of the millage rate.

"The school board is looking at the same kind of numbers as we are," he said.

On Monday, the Dawson County School Board unanimously approved a full rollback of the system's portion of the millage rate.

The new rate is 15.778, down .718 mills from 2015.

"The two major sources of funding are local property taxes and state education funding," said Superintendent Damon Gibbs. "There was no need for a revenue increase this year which prompted the full rollback.

"This has been made possible due to an increase in state funding and an increase in the local property tax digest."

With the rate set by the board of education, a resident with a home valued at $225,000 is expected to see a savings of $64.62.

Berg said the county would be in line to collect about $9 million in revenue with a full rollback of 7.8 mills, which would create a difference of $390,000 if the county voted on a partial 8.138 mills rollback, the rate for the last 12 years.

He said the proposal would allow the county to maintain a sizeable fund balance while still giving taxpayers a break on their property taxes.

District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Hamby said he was hesitant to make any bold moves in light of an unpredictable economic climate that could develop over the presidential outcome.

"It could go up. It could go down. If we roll it back to 7.8 and the economy goes south, where does that leave us? Then we're going to have to go back and ask the citizens for more money," he said.

A few years ago, the school system did just that, reduced the millage and then later increased it when the need arose.

"What they told the citizens was ‘when we need it, we're going to ask you for it, and when we don't need it, we won't ask you for it,'" Berg said.

He said the county's situation is unique in that additional dollars are expected from the new development, rather than relying solely on the sales tax revenue that's already coming in.

"The best estimate is that we'll continue to grow like we have been and then more people will come in and use the facilities," he said.
"We worked very hard to bring new development on 400, which we said would help us keep the taxpayers' property tax dollars the same or lower, and that's what's been done.

"Now we ought to come back and say that we've done that and here it is."

District 2 Commissioner James Swafford appeared to be leaning toward the reduction.

"With this, it would have to tank really bad to throw this out of kilter because we're basing it on revenue budget estimates from last year and what we're projecting this year and next year," he said.

Berg said there are additional measures the county could take to further protect its rainy day fund.

"What is not included here is a couple of the revenues that potentially will come in in 2017, one of them is we're still waiting on the GEMA funds, which is $650,000," he said.

The county has also been holding on to more than 250 Etowah Water and Sewer Authority taps for more than two decades, according to Berg.

"There were about 251 sewer taps and at one time they were valued at about $2,000 apiece. That's a half a million dollars. If we wanted to, we could sell back to EWSA," he said.

If the commission goes with the full rollback on Thursday, only one public hearing would be needed.

If a partial rollback or no rollback is desired, the county would have to advertise for a tax increase and three hearings would be required.

The commission's meeting is at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the Dawson County Government Center.

Staff writer Amy French contributed to this story.