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Clayton millage rate may drop in FY 2013

Photo by Curt Yeomans

Clayton County Finance Director Angela Jackson talks to county Budget Manager Dennis Johnson following a presentation of the county's proposed fiscal year 2013 budget. Jackson announced property taxes could decrease by as much as 0.895 mills under the new budget.

Photo by Curt Yeomans Clayton County Finance Director Angela Jackson talks to county Budget Manager Dennis Johnson following a presentation of the county's proposed fiscal year 2013 budget. Jackson announced property taxes could decrease by as much as 0.895 mills under the new budget.

Clayton County residents who watched their property tax rate increase by approximately 34 percent last year could see a slight decrease in their property taxes later this year, county finance officials announced Tuesday night.

Property owners are expected to see the county millage, or property tax, rate decrease by 0.895 mills this fall — if commissioners approve the county’s proposed $170.8 million fiscal year 2013 budget later this month. That stands in stark contrast to last year, when commissioners took the controversial step to approve a 5-mill increase in the millage rate.

County Finance Director Angela Jackson told commissioners and county residents that while the local property tax digest decreased during the last year, the county is also looking at a projected increase in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) rebate revenues. The rebate revenues are projected to hit $36.15 million in the next fiscal year, which is up from $33.92 million for the current fiscal year, according to Jackson.

As a result, the county gets a millage credit that allows leaders to cut the property tax rate.

“When you have a lower digest and an increased LOST, the net mill rate decreases,” Jackson said. “So, with the LOST increase, you will experience a net mill rate decrease of 0.895 mills.”

The county’s net millage rate is expected to be 14.918 mills (not including a 6.035-mill credit) in fiscal year 2013 because of the expected rate decrease. The county’s Fire Fund millage rate is expected to stay at 4.4 mills, however.

The finance director explained the county has also been able to balance its fiscal year 2013 budget without implementing service cuts or employee layoffs through a mixture of reduced spending and unexpected increases in revenues. She added that while expenditures are expected to total $170.8 million, the projected revenues coming into the county’s coffers are expected to total $173.9 million.

Jackson said the county reduced its energy costs by reducing utility usage, and also cut legal and personnel expenses. At the same time, she said, the county saw an increase in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenues, and gathered additional unplanned for funds from a school resource officer agreement with Clayton County Schools, jail inmate housing, telephone costs in the jail and emergency medical services fees.

“Expenses were kept down to a minimum, to make sure we didn’t have a service cut, but at the same time to represent the revenues that we’re anticipating,” the finance director said.

Still, the finance director warned commissioners that there is still an approximately $5 million funding shortfall in the Fire Fund, which pays for the county’s fire and emergency services department.

Jackson said rolling brownouts at fire stations, and employee layoffs were considered to make up for the shortfall, which was caused by the lower tax digest. She explained the county opted instead to cut the fire department’s expenses by $1 million, reduce the Fire Fund balance by $1.5 million, and move an additional $2.5 million from the county’s general fund, to the Fire Fund.

The commission is expected to vote on approving the budget on June 12. The millage rate will be voted on in July.