Lowndes millage rate still low compared to other counties

What’s the county’s current millage, and how does it compare to other counties? Indeed county employees are mostly underpaid, but are none overpaid? And where’s that employee compensation study the county paid for? Three curious omissions in an otherwise excellent VDT story.

Matthew Woody wrote for the VDT 28 May 2014, Lowndes County weighs tax increase,

Lowndes County Commission weighed the likelihood of raising the millage rate Tuesday — the first such tax increase in 15 years.

During the past few years, all of the Lowndes County government departments have slashed their expenditures as razor thin as possible to meet revenues. During the Tuesday morning meeting, county commissioners discussed the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, and the possibility of a millage rate increase.

The county’s proposed budget for the 2015FY is nearly $95 million in revenues, and approximately $112 million in expenditures. In its general fund, the county’s proposed revenue for the 2015FY is nearly $48 million, while expenditures are $50,563,122; the difference is divided among the various county departments. Property tax goes into the general fund revenue.

County officials said they will do whatever is necessary to continue services even if that means a .93 percent increase in the county’s millage rate.

And there’s this bit about past millage raises:

County officials state, “In 1999, the incorporated millage rate was increased by 1.719 mils and the unincorporated millage rates was increased by 2.262 mils. This is a significant fact in that while costs for goods and services have increased since 1999, Lowndes County has continued to roll back the millage rate or at the very least to hold it steady.”

But the VDT story never says what the current millage rate is, or how it compares to other counties.

Fortunately, the Georgia Department of Revenue (GA DOR) publishes online Tax Digest Millage Rates, “a report that has the actual millage rates for each taxing jurisdiction (city, county, fire, etc.)”. That digest says Lowndes County’s unincorporated millage rate is 7.303 mills. That is indeed higher than Valdosta’s 4.102 or Hahira’s 4.750 or Lake Park’s 5.052 or Remerton’s 6.382, but is about half the county school district’s 14.725 mills.

And Lowndes County’s 7.303 mills is way lower than Dougherty County’s 11.894 mills and even with the proposed increase, 7.303 + 0.93 = 8.233 mills is only slightly higher than Thomas County’s 8.118 mills.

In fact, Lowndes County comes in about number 28 among Georgia’s 159 counties for county unincorporated taxes. I say “about” because the GA DOR table has no county unincorporated figures for Clarke or Muscogee and appears to be missing a county. Of those listed, Walker County is lowest at 4.705 and Rockdale County is highest at 20.700 mills.

Even the proposed increased Lowndes County rate of 8.233 mills would still be lower than the surrounding counties:

  • 11.525 Brooks County
  • 11.900 Cook County
  • 13.971 Colquitt County
  • 14.000 Echols County
  • 15.846 Lanier County
  • 16.710 Berrien County

Sure if you add in the VLCIA’s 1 mill and VLPRA’s 1.25 mill you get 10.483 mills, but that’s still lower than any of the surrounding counties.

Also in the VDT story:

During the Feb. 11, 2014, meeting, the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners hired Dr. Stephen E. Condrey from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, for a position and classification study for county employees so that a recommendation for updating job descriptions and the pay scale could be developed.

LAKE had a rare video fail on that meeting, but here’s the video from the 10 February 2014 Work Session of Commissioners asking questions about that item.

Did the people at the top of the county’s pay scale take any pay cuts during these lean years when the rank and file got no raises and many were laid off? If so, are we to believe the special pay scale study found no overpaid county employees? Where’s the report so we can see for ourselves?