Since 2000, state law has required school districts to advertise and conduct hearings if the district intends to benefit from growth in the property tax digest. The law requires the advertisement to be called a "Notice of Property Tax Increase," even if a school district wants to keep the same millage rate.
As finance committee chairman, Muscogee County School Board member John Wells conducts the local hearings. Usually, nobody speaks during the public comment period. But this year sure ain't usual -- because it's an election year and because Wells has three opponents running against him for the District 2 seat.
One of those opponents, John F. Thomas, was the only resident to speak during Monday's hearing. As an IRS agent, Thomas is an expert on the income kind of taxes, but he wanted to show folks he understands this property tax business as well:
Thomas: "If you don't vote to hold the millage rate at 23.37, what will the millage rate be?"
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Wells: "It will be the same as it was last year."
Thomas: "It won't roll back? You have to vote to hold it at 23.37, then there's an increase in property taxes. That's what's happening. I think the board is trying to take advantage of a loophole in the law to raise property taxes and trying to sneak this by."
Wells: "I'm going to ask the finance director to respond to that, if she will. If you feel the need to, I mean, we don't have to respond to public comments, but if you would like to set the record straight."
Sharon Adams, the district's chief financial officer: "Yes, I would. As we said, our millage rate is 23.37. The reason for this advertisement is we're not increasing the millage rate. We hope the property digest will increase by 1 percent. That's what we're hoping for, through reassessments. What that means is -- and 1 percent is 0.012 mills currently -- if we don't approve to hold at 23.37, our millage rate would roll back to the 23.35 that's in the advertisement. That's the reason for this. So we're not increasing the millage, as Mr. Wells said. We're holding the millage rate for 18 consecutive years. What we're saying is we want to take advantage of the growth in the digest."
Board member Pat Hugley Green of District 1: "Also, the assessments you're talking about is done at the tax assessor's office. We don't make any assessments."
Thomas: "So if it's not an increase in property tax, then you will not hold the millage rate at 23.37. It will roll back to 23.35. So, yes, there must be an increase in property tax."
Wells: (to Adams) "You responded to that already. Do you need another response?"
Adams: "No, sir."
Voters will respond by Tuesday, when we'll all know the results of this election.