Hickman, Newkirk Address Bulloch County Republican Party

State Senator Billy Hickman and county commission candidate Nick Newkirk addressed the Bulloch County Republican Party Saturday morning.

Hickman began his speech by talking about the number of bills introduced and passed in the legislature this past session, noting that it makes it hard for him to know what citizens are talking about when they reference a bill number alone. He also spoke on the number of people from the region who hold power in the state.

As far as legislative matters go, Hickman spoke specifically on two issues – his appointment as Chairman of the Senate ‘Study Committee on ‘Preservation of Georgia’s Farmlands’ and legislation to amend property tax relief.

Senate Resolution 570 

He read from the text of SR 470 on farmland preservation, reading statistics about dwindling farmland acreage in exchange for development. “We gotta protect our farmland, that’s why I got into this,” he said. 

“We decided we need to make Georgia aware of how we’re losing farmland and how we will protect it and balance it, that type of thing. Ray and I were talking about it earlier, it’s tough in Bulloch County when people can earn $100/acre in rent but sell it for $50,000 an acre. The problem that we’ve got now, as most of y’all know, is so much of our farmland now, because it’s really, I told Brian Pfund yesterday, it’s really a lot of our people in the past’s problem because we haven’t provided jobs for our people to stay here and what does that mean? A lot of farmland, as we know, is owned by people who don’t live here. They don’t have the same values we have, the same concerns we have. They don’t have the same wants, they live in Atlanta, they don’t have ties, so we gotta look at that. So, what, in this resolution, we have the right to protect our land and support our economy, grow our communities, and maintain a high quality of life. And there’s a balance in there and nobody knows what that balance is and I sure don’t know what that balance is. And I know by losing 2.6 million acres of land in forty years, there’s an issue at this point. To achieve that, we’ve got to have some informed decisions. And we’ve got to provide opportunities for our children.” 

Hickman went on to say that he and his wife don’t have the same relationship with their grandchildren who live in St. Marys as they do with the children who live in Bulloch County.

“Brian and I were talking about it yesterday about how important it is to have our children and grandchildren live close to us,” Hickman continued.

Hickman then outlined the details of the study committee, noting that two members are farmers. 

“Our primary focus is going to be farmland preservation, timberland preservation, water protection – big deal, we all know that – and that’s what we’re after.”

House Bill 581 

This bill, which you will love, you will love, there’s no reason why Bulloch County won’t just turn backflips over this…This past week I probably talked at least four times to [an individual] who works for the Georgia Municipal Association to kind of get a little more particulars of what this bill does. And so it really, we gonna vote on this, this bill, it’s a constitutional amendment and we will vote on this bill in November, okay? And if it passes in November by all of Georgia then when David [Bennett] takes office in January, he has the ability to opt-out of the bill, but I can’t imagine after I tell you all about this why anybody would opt out of it, okay, and so it will be effective 1/1/25, not ten years down the road, 1/1/25 and it will be an opt-out situation. And also, and Lehman probably knows more about this than I do, part of this confusion so much had really happened in the last two days. The assessment notices we get are so confusing, and I get confused, I’m an accountant and I get confused, I know y’all do too. But there’s going to be some changes in the way, right Lehman? There’s going to be some changes in the way the assessments are. The assessment notices as I understand, cause Lehman was talking and he knows more about it than I do, but that stuff on the bottom of the notices that say ‘This is what your taxes will be based on last year’s assessment’ as I understand it, that’s not going to be there anymore. And so, the confusion’s not going to be there. Let me tell you – we were always told that 48% of our sales tax were paid by people who didn’t live here. 48%. I talked to Jennifer Davis earlier this week and she said maybe as high as 50% of our sales tax are paid by people that don’t live in Bulloch County. Either students or online sales and now people that come and shop and eat here.

“Let me tell you a little bit about this bill. So voters will vote in November and I’m gonna read off of something that [another Senator] gave us. So, voters in November, this bill will allow an increase in assessed tax value on homes by no more than the Consumer Price Index – which is inflation. So going forward, if you vote on this bill, that’s why David and his crowd need to support this and push it and get out and make sure we all vote YES on it, if we vote on this bill and Georgia passes it, your house, your personal residence, not your rental property, not your whatever else, but your personal residence would not go up in value more than the Consumer Price Index per year. Now what happens when you sell that house, the next guy, his property tax will be at the real fair market value. But your property tax, your fair market value, will not go up more than the Consumer Price Index. And the Department of Revenue will publish that Consumer Price Index on January 1st of every year. So you can be guaranteed before this assessment ever comes out that, whatever you got the other day, the other day what your assessed values are, those things will not go up more than 3% beginning January 1, 2025. If we vote on this bill. That’s a great bargain.” 

“The big part of the bill is you also have a option to increase sales tax by 1% for Bulloch County. So what happens is that 1% for sales tax that you vote on, no it don’t go in the General Fund, no it don’t go to fire trucks, it don’t go to ambulances, it goes to offset property taxes. Directed by law, by statute, by the bill that we voted on, it will go directly to offset property taxes. I haven’t seen any numbers on Bulloch County but Chuck has said in his memo that he gave me that we will have in some counties, your property taxes will be reduced by as much as 50% by this sales tax. And keep in mind people, some might say ‘That’s nothing but taking money out of one pocket and putting it in the other pocket.’ It’s not when 40% of our sales taxes are generated by people that don’t live here. You’re going to have people from Evans County and you ought to thank these people from Evans County, you ought to thank Candler County, they will be helping us pay our property taxes. Big big big big deal. This bill will vote capping the fair market value of houses and it will also drastically reduce property taxes. So it’s very…, that’s why I wanted to get to y’all early. That’s why I wanted David to hear this. And David and I exchanged phone calls three times this week and just did not hook up, but that’s why I wanted y’all to hear this. Very important for this Republican party, group, to get out and vote this bill and pass this bill. So I appreciate that. That’s why I wanted to come and speak on this.”

Questions from the Audience 

Cassandra Mikell – So you said that rental houses are not going to be included in that but the people who live in those rental houses are still paying that extra 1% sales tax, if this passes, so why wouldn’t rental houses be included because the property taxes are already being paid. You’re almost double dipping at that point.
Hickman: Because the bill says it’s only personal residences. 
Cassandra Mikell: Right, and I’m asking you to consider changing that just in the sense that you’re still getting the property taxes and you’re getting the sales tax but the property rental owners aren’t going to get that additional relief.
Hickman: No ma’am. They’re not.
Cassandra Mikell: So you’re double dipping.
Hickman: No, what I’m saying is, keep in mind, this bill is for the property owners. So yeah, you’re right. Keep in mind, this is not an easy bill to get through. Y’all just think these things are ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am,’ but this bill got passed at the last minute, in the last two hours of session. This bill, so, I understand you’ve got rental property, I do not, so this bill is only for your personal residence. But I can’t imagine us not passing this, but it will offset all property taxes, including rental properties, including farm land. 

NOTE: For clarification, the rental properties are covered by the sales tax millage rate reduction but will not be covered by the CPI  “freeze.”

R. Ryan Brannen, who is a farmer and a candidate for Bulloch County Commission in District 1A, asked Hickman about protecting agriculture while continuing his work as Vice Chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee and endorsing candidates in Bulloch County who have voted to increase taxes on property owners, including farmers. He said agricultural land, like many others, is being assessed based on economic growth. “You can’t ride two horses with one behind,” he said. “We’ve got to preserve the farmland and figure out a way to help generational farmers and generational landowners…what about the people who do want to stay here and want to keep their land?”

Hickman replied that he was born ‘around a farm’ and said he understands farming because he represents a lot of farmers as a CPA. He mentioned that the legislature passed the Freedom to Farm Act in 2022. 

“Ryan’s probably going to put out some chicken litter on his land. Ray’s probably going to, too. And if he’s been farming that land for I think two years, you can’t do anything about it. That’s a bill that we passed for the farmers,” Hickman said. He also said the legislature passed a conservation act for farming to put land in a conservation indefinitely, but he doesn’t know anyone who has done it.”

Newkirk spoke on his campaign for Seat 2C on the Bulloch County Commission, but opened by talking about the victories that came out of the May 21st election.

“I just want to thank everybody that turned out to the primary vote. I think everybody was surprised, I know a lot of us challengers, that’s what we were hoping for, but I don’t think anybody realized we would have that kind of turnout and that kind of close to 30-35% victories.”

He went on to share his background growing up in Effingham County and his and his wife’s decision to move to Bulloch County when they decided to raise a family. “We fell in love with it and it’s where we’ve been the last 21 years. Started an inflatable business, been doing that for close to fifteen years. And I’ve dabbled with some other businesses on the side. I’m trying to open up a pizza shop in Brooklet and we were getting close until I decided to sign up to run for county commission in March.”

“But we just like the old school, old town feel that Bulloch has always had, the farmlands, the tractors going up and down the road, it’s just something that we want to be a part of and I feel like we’re losing touch to some of that,” Newkirk said. “I know we talked about preserving the farmland and I think that’s what we really need to be concentrating on. I know Bulloch County’s got new zoning maps and growth maps and they say they’re following the growth maps but now, all of a sudden, some developers get up there and you put 60-70 houses out there, out near Shuman Road on Old River Road and that’s not even part of the growth maps. Another one’s out there on Brooklet Denmark Road, another 30-40 houses out there, so the current commissioners sit there and they say we’re following this growth  map and going along with it but whenever some developers stand up and ask for that, they get approved automatically. We got to cut back on that. We need to preserve the farmland, the timberland that we have. Everything. People aren’t moving to Bulloch County because they want to buy the half acre and duplex lots. They’re moving to Bulloch County because it’s wide open, plenty of farmland, and just love the old rural style of living.

The other thing is obviously the taxes. We got hit with a 30% increase last year, tax assessment valuations have gone up tremendously this year even though there’s a slight rollback to keep the tax rate the same, the budget is still going up. We’re actually pulling close to $2 million out of our rainy day account to get the budget balanced this year and I’m not sure what rainy day, what emergency situation is going on right now that we have to pull money out of a rainy day account to keep the budget balanced. We have to control the spending. We have to see where we’re bleeding money out. 

I know there’s rumors going around that all of us want to shut down Splash in the ‘Boro. That is not what we want to do. We want to make it more profitable for the citizens of Bulloch County. What does that mean? We need to get in there and start looking at it. 

The road maintenance, the infrastructure, we need to start passing the infrastructure onto the developers that are causing a lot of the issues. I think we need to start implementing impact fees for residential and commercial developments. I think that’s a big thing that we really have to do to start taking control and letting some of that, instead of me and you and all of us paying for that, we need to give that back to the people that are causing the problems. I know that growth is going to happen, it’s going to come, we can’t build a wall all the way around Bulloch County and keep it the way it is – the way we’ve known it forever – but we need to start letting some of the developers and setting some of the ones coming in to help cover some of the costs of that infrastructure.

The tax abatements, you know, I know a lot of people, or some people, think that’s a good thing to get some of the industry in, but we’ve got a lot of people that travel to Savannah back and forth every day and I don’t think we need to be giving our land away to foreign companies just so some people don’t have to drive thirty minutes to work instead of driving ten minutes. Let another company take the abatements, let them take care of that cause obviously the abatements aren’t helping us out any. That’s one of the reasons the taxes are going up. I know they’re still paying school tax and I know they’re still paying fire, but the property tax is what’s really hurting us and another reason taxes went up 30%. To help cover some of that.

Newkirk closed by sharing he supports term limits for county commissioners. 

Newkirk will appear on the June 18th ballot for the Republican primary runoff election. Early voting runs June 10-14 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Bulloch County Annex.

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and co-creator of of the Peabody Award-nominated podcast 'Prison Town.'

Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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