Bainbridge millage rate remains the same despite being advertised as increase

Published 8:31 pm Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tuesday evening, the Bainbridge City Council unanimously voted to maintain its 5.575 millage rate.

Councilwoman Glennie Bench moved to maintain the millage rate, with Councilman Phil Long providing the second.

This year’s millage adoption is complicated because several Bainbridge properties’ values were reassessed, which will ultimately leave the city collecting about $87,000 less in property taxes than it did last year.

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“I’ve been doing this for about 20 years now, and this is the most confusing millage rate adoption that I’ve ever done,” Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby said, addressing the council, “because we’re leaving the millage rate the same; 5.575 mils is what’s proposed. That will result in us collecting $87,000 less in revenue than we collected last year because the digest has decreased, but the state only looks at the amount of increase that there has been in the reassessment of existing, real property when you set your millage rate.”

Hobby said that if that digest amount increases as a result of reassessments, the city is required to advertise the millage adoption as a “tax increase,” even though the millage rate is unchanged and the city will actually collect less in property taxes.

Some councilmembers expressed concern about how to communicate the issue to the public and suggested the council reaches out to the legislature.

“I really think it’s unfair,” Councilwoman Roslyn Palmer said about advertising the rate as a tax increase, “and I hope that we use our hometown connection. [Hobby] had mentioned getting with our legislature, and I think that’s one thing we need to use our hometown connection for this year, because that’s unfair to call it that.”

Councilman Luther Conyers echoed Palmer’s concerns and asked how the council could explain the situation to the public.

Hobby said that explaining it is “almost impossible.”

“Explaining this convoluted deal that we have this year to the average citizen is very, very difficult,” Hobby said.

Hobby said that he and city staff had everything confirmed by the Department of Revenue, because it was so confusing.

Hobby said that the law was written during a time when property values were increasing dramatically year-after-year and was primarily targeted toward the metro Atlanta area, where property values would increase tens of thousands of dollars each year.

“Local governments would leave their millage rates the same, advertise the same millage, no tax increase, but actually collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional revenue just by leaving things the same,” Hobby explained. “The legislature said, ‘That’s wrong. You can’t do that. That’s a backdoor tax increase, so we’re going to change the law,’ and they did. They never anticipated an event where you would have negative digest growth of $16 million, leave your millage rate the same and then have to say, ‘That’s a tax increase’. It doesn’t make any sense because it’s not. It’s not a tax increase, but that’s how you have to advertise it.”