The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday morning to adopt a 33% increase in the county’s property taxes.
The unanimous vote from all of the commissioners followed three public hearings in which elected officials fielded upwards of seven hours of feedback from county residents, almost entirely in opposition.
The 33% increase is separate from the Board of Education’s plan to increase the school system portion of property taxes by 16%.
The county portion of the millage rate had been rolled back in 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 due to federal funding supplements and increased tax collections because of rising property values and tax assessments. The county once again saw an increase in property values in 2023, but said the necessary increases stemmed from years of kicking the can down the road.
County Manager Tom Couch also added that while the population in Bulloch County is growing, ‘the tax base is no equivalent to other counties who are more suburban like Columbia, Bryan or Effingham.’
“We are still predominantly rural, and because of Statesboro’s poverty, we do not have the aggregate community wealth that other similarly growing counties have. We are also hampered by tax exemptions for farm and forest lands, tax incentives for new industry, and blighted business properties.”
Commissioners announced their intention to increase the millage rate by 1.5 mills after the budget was approved in June. In July, county officials began making their case for the increasing, citing:
- Increased personnel costs consisting predominantly of additional public safety personnel to meet a minimum level of service, and wage and salary increases to aid in recruitment and retention
- Inflationary costs for certain goods and services, especially health and property and liability insurance
- Appropriations for a future workforce demand plan, and for a state-of-existing-facilities report/master-facilities plan based on anticipated population and service growth.
- Assign fund balance for future land acquisition for new facilities
County officials also said that short-term issues financially include shortfalls with Splash in the Boro, which is still recovering from closure in 2020, prompting coverage from the General Fund to ensure the deficit is covered.
Employee health insurance is also trending on a shortfall for the coming year.
Commissioners held public hearings on August 7, 14, and 21 with a scheduled vote on the millage rate on August 22. The proposed resolution on the increase was already prepared and published on the county website before the final hearing on August 21, prompting many citizens to criticize elected officials for having made up their minds before the hearings were complete.
Chairman Roy Thompson was criticized during the process for his comments at a public meeting earlier in the process in which he said, “Really and truly, why have a three hour meeting with a hundred people standing up to say ‘We don’t want our taxes to go up.’ We heard you the first time.”