In April, city officials projected a $4.3 million drop in revenue due to decreases from some funding sources.
But the budget outlook seems much brighter in the wake of a countywide reassessment project that increased some property taxes by as much as 1,000 percent.
City councilors were notified of the potential boost to the property tax digest in a May 25 email sent by Teasha Johnson, assistant to City Manager Isaiah Hugley, according to documents provided by the mayor’s office.
“We have just received the preliminary digest projections from the Chief Tax Assessor, Betty Middleton,” the notice reads. “... The preliminary projections indicate the digest may increase by 6%. However, we cannot come in over any projection, and accordingly will be projecting as much as a 7% increase in the digest to be advertised for the Taxpayer Bill of Rights on May 30th.”
But with many property owners appealing their assessments, city officials say they’ll have to wait until the process is over before they know for sure how much they’ll collect in property taxes. The appeal deadline is Aug. 14.
Forty percent of the tax digest will go to the city and 60 percent to the Muscogee County School District.
“These are just preliminary projections and are subject to change as the digest is finalized for submission to the State,” according to the email. “Of course, this increase is due to the growth of the total digest, not from any tax rate increase to individual homeowners with homestead exemptions unless they have made alterations to their property.
“Although the advertised increase will be more than initial budgetary projections, we feel this should not impact or adjust the proposed budget, particularly since our sales tax revenues continue to trend downwards and we face other potentially significant expenses, such as the corroded cooling system water pipes throughout the Government Building,” the email continued. “We can apprise Council throughout the year as to any extra revenue received. ”
At a Tuesday council meeting, Deputy Chief Appraiser John Williams said 1,539 appeals had been processed as of Monday, which represents 2.21 percent of the taxable property. The assessed “value in dispute” from the appeals is 0.46 percent of the total taxable digest.
He said 244 appeals had been reviewed, which is about 16 percent of the appeals filed. So far, 122 appeals have been recommended for reduction, 60 were recommended no change, and 62 were designated for review by division managers.
During that same meeting, the issue of revenue surfaced during a discussion about when councilors became aware of the increased property values.
While arguing that they were notified ahead of time, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said city officials normally try to find out what the digest will be while developing her annual budget letter. Tax assessors usually don’t have the numbers that early in the process.
“So when the mayor’s budget letter comes out its always very conservative because we just don’t know what the numbers are going to show,” she said. “But by the time it gets to council, usually a couple of weeks later, we find out, and this time we were told that it would be an increase in the digest of 6 or 7 percent by the time it got to council.”