April 20, 2014

Understandable uncertainty from taxpayers

It’s not yet official, but Dalton residents should expect to pay more in school property taxes this year.

The typical homeowner would see about a $65 yearly property tax hike if the Dalton Board of Education votes to increase the system’s millage at the rate they are considering.

Here are the numbers the school system — and homeowners — are looking at. The tax rate is currently 7.845 mills, with a mill representing $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed value. For a $100,000 home — without exemptions — a 7.845 rate means a homeowner pays $784.50 to the school system each year, typically by paying into escrow accounts each month ($65.38 a month).

Board members are close to setting the property tax rate for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1, at a rate of 8.5 mills. With the same value house, the new rate would mean a homeowner would owe $850 (or about $70.83 a month).

That 8.5 mills figure is not the highest it’s ever been, but it’s close. In 2004 the millage rate was 8.565. Then in 2008 the board slashed the rate just before the housing market crisis resulted in the “Great Recession” later that year.

To their credit, school board members resisted raising taxes these past few years and managed to reduce the workforce to save millions. The past five years could be seen as a long overdue correction that reined in spending and tapped the brakes on taxes.

 No one wants to see the quality of education suffer at any school. But it’s difficult for taxpayers to see their taxes increased when school board members complain constantly about lack of funding, and then spend more than a million dollars on a practice field paid for through a general fund, as happened at Dalton High School.

Residents usually are willing to pay their share of taxes for necessary city, county and school projects, but it’s disheartening to see how quickly local officials jump to the conclusion that increased sales or property taxes are the best answer to just about any budget challenge.

Board members are expected to adopt the tentative tax rate at their May 12 meeting, with final approval set for June 9.

And keep a close eye out on the months ahead, the scuttlebutt around government types is that we’re going to be asked to vote on new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOSTs) fairly soon as the economy improves.

Local taxpayers are willing to pay their share for truly needed budget increases, but they might feel better about it if they believed school and city officials were trying a little harder to find other solutions rather than jumping so quickly to the option of increased taxes.

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