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'County's value has not fallen,' officials beam

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners held two public hearings on Tuesday to discuss the county's 2008 tax digest and a proposed 4.68 percent hike in county property taxes.

Despite rampant foreclosures and a nationwide economic recession, Clayton County has managed to keep its head above water. According to the Clayton County Tax Assessor's office, the overall tax digest value of the county from FY 2007 to FY 2008 has increased by 1.6 percent.

While the increase pales in comparison to gains made from FY 2006 to FY 2007, the county saw increases in real and personal property, as well as motor vehicle ownership, which kept the county out of the red, in terms of tax digest value.

"We didn't see a huge increase in value this time around," said Rodney McDaniel, chief appraiser for Clayton County on Tuesday. "We have approximately 90,000 parcels for our digest. Basically, 16 percent of all the parcels in our county had an increase in value. That is a very small amount."

Of the 90,000 parcels, approximately 17,000 residential, commercial, and personal properties were reappraised at a higher value. Roughly 27,000 of those properties went down in value, and 47,000 properties saw no rise, or decrease in value.

These values vary greatly from FY 2006 to FY 2007, when around 50 percent of the properties increased in value, according to McDaniel.

"The economy is very uncertain right now," said McDaniel. "A lot of housing developments which began building have stopped. There is a huge inventory of vacant lots that are sitting idle.

"I would venture to say that some property values have gone down 15 or 20 percent," McDaniel continued. However, he added additional parcels and commercial business may "have likely added value" to the FY 2008 tax digest.

Keeping with the modest increase, the county's general fund millage rate will remain at 13.453 mills and the Fire District maintenance and operation millage (M&O) will remain at 3.9 mills.

The M&O millage rate will increase from 8.535 to 8.962 mills, which will increase M&O property taxes by 4.68 percent. The increase, however, is meant to offset reductions in the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) 1 percent tax credit.

The rollback will keep tax collection levels steady, according to Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell.

"The new and reappraised properties have balanced the economy of the county," said Bell. He said while the tax digest increase will slightly raise the county's maintenance and operations millage rate, the difference "will be taken care of in the rollback.

"The value of Clayton County has not fallen at all," said Bell. "It has increased."

McDaniel believes the county is "doing remarkably well" given the number of counties across the country dealing with high foreclosure rates.

"We continue to deal with those problems, but we have seen a slight increase," said McDaniel. "It's not as much as in previous years, but let's be honest, things could be a lot worse."

Another public hearing regarding the county's millage rates will take place on July 15, at 6:45 p.m., at the Clayton County Administration Building, located at 112 Smith Street in Jonesboro.