Expansion = Higher Taxes

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Annexation will mean higher property taxes for residentsabsorbed into Brookhaven’s corporate limits, but city officialssaid how much more will depend on several factors.

“Each year, the factors are the value of the property and themillage rate,” said City Tax Collector Pat Duckworth.

An individual’s property value and the millage rate are used inconjunction to determine the owner’s tax burden.

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The millage rate, or tax levy, is set according to the amount ofproperty taxes the city needs to bring in to meet its budgetobligations. Duckworth indicated that millage rates can change fromyear to year while property values are more stable.

“Unless there’s a reappraisal, the values don’t change thatmuch,” Duckworth said.

Based on current millage rates, business and properties that donot have homestead exemption would see a 54 percent increase intheir tax bills. Duckworth said an overall percentage increase onproperty with homestead exemption could not be determined becauseof individual differences in the exemption credit as it relates toproperty values.

Duckworth said she had received calls from some older residentsconcerned about their special exemption.

Disabled property owners and those over age 65 are exempt fromtaxes on up to $75,000 in property value. Duckworth said theirsituation would not change due to the annexation.

“If their value is less than $75,000, they’re not going to payany tax regardless of where they are,” Duckworth said.

Also, while budget considerations could alter the situation,Duckworth said city residents would not see a change in propertytaxes if the millage rate stays the same following anannexation.

“It won’t affect the people paying city tax, because theyalready pay that,” Duckworth said.

Being annexed into the city would mean a slight reduction in thecounty property tax levy.

County residents currently pay three-quarters of a mill tosupport volunteer fire departments. That amounts to a break ofabout $7.50 on a $100,000 home.

However, that would be the only levy removed.

“Everything else is a countywide assessment,” said CountyAdministrator David Fields.

The city’s proposed annexation area is wholly within theBrookhaven School District. Duckworth said that means LincolnCounty School District residents would not be impacted by theannexation.

“Nothing will be annexed that’s not already in the separateschool district,” Duckworth said.

Lincoln County Tax Assessor-Collector Nancy Jordan said the nextcountywide reappraisal will be done in 2005. The new values wouldbe reflected in property tax bills for 2006.

“It’s mandated that we do it every four years,” Jordan said. “Wedo all of the county at one time.”

Jordan said maintenance of tax rolls is done every year.Maintenance involves additions, deletions or other modifications toproperty during a given year.

Following a major increase in property values, Duckworth saidofficials have been able to lower the millage rates. That happenedin 2001 when the last countywide reappraisal increased values inmany areas.

The city’s Services and Facilities plan includes projectedoverall property values and projected city budgets for the firstfive years after the annexation. The document will be used be thecity to justify its ability to annex the proposed area.

Annexation consultant Mike Slaughter said the plan data wasbased on the city’s historical trends. Citing expected trialtestimony, he declined to say whether a tax levy increase wasfactored into the property tax revenue projections.

“That question is one the opponents are likely to ask,”Slaughter said.

The budget calculations are expected to be scrutinized duringthe city’s annexation trial that starts Wednesday.

“Those are things we want to find out about and how they gotthose numbers,” said attorney Carlisle Henderson, who isrepresenting over 200 objectors challenging the annexation.

Henderson acknowledged court rulings declaring that payinghigher taxes is not reason enough by itself to object toannexation. However, he said the overall financial burden andimpact on those annexed is one of the 12 indicia of reasonablenessthat the city must address.

“It is something that is part of what the court looks at todetermine whether or not the annexation is reasonable,” Hendersonsaid.