Citizens express concerns with tax hike and new values of homes
The prospect of a tax increase greater than 14 percent on top of over $32 million in increased residential property values, taxpayers filled the seats at public hearings held at the courthouse Tuesday morning and evening.
Grady County Commissioners got an earful from taxpayers calling for them to hold the line on expenses and questioning how the new residential values were determined.
“Let me hold the county checkbook,” said Rodney Cook, 569 Jones Rd., at Tuesday night’s hearing. Cook said he could do a better job of managing county finances and he encouraged commissioners to “learn to squeeze their belts a little tighter.”
“Y’all need to own a bank. We can’t be your bank,” Cook stated.
Taxpayer Sam Kines, 499 Rawls Rd., questioned how values of homes on dirt roads were valued nearly as high as homes on paved roads. Kines called for “fairness” and noted he did not mind paying his taxes, but he believed he had paid enough in taxes over the 28-and-a-half-years he had lived on a dirt road that it could be paved.
Kines complained that the county recently paved Lewis Lane and installed curb and gutter there to make it one of the nicest roads in the county, but according to him 85 percent of the residents don’t own their property.
Commissioners were warned by Al Ward, 1231 Moore Rd., that the major tax increase would likely destroy the economy of the county. Ward said that the increased taxes would be passed on to renters in the form of higher rents and by local businesses to customers in the form of higher prices for goods and services.
Ward on Tuesday morning called for the county to reverse the new assessments and leave taxes at current rates.
A similar request was made Tuesday night by Cairo City Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas. Douglas who encouraged the board to freeze residential values at the 2016 level until all property in the county could be reevaluated and take the entire burden of the proposed tax increase off of the residential property owners.
“I got into this when my 86-year-old mother called and said her taxes were going up $174. Well, $174 may not be much to most of you, but for my mother it’s a lot of money,” Douglas said.
Douglas, who chairs the Cairo City Council Finance Committee, shared an analysis of various properties owned in various sections of the city and county which showed that values for residential property had increased by as much as 20.325 percent and an increase in taxes of as much as 29.14 percent.
“I hope there is some fluff in this budget. It needs to be dissected and y’all decide what Grady County can afford,” Douglas said. He added that he was not in favor of cutting out a proposed pay raise for county personnel, but instead suggested the county look at other ways to reduce the budget including scaling back on grant projects.
He said that while grants “sound good” there is a cost to “in-kind” labor. Douglas called for the county to only pave what the county can afford to pave. He also predicted that if the full costs of county labor, equipment and fuel on all of the road projects being funded by grants was calculated it would be nearly as much as the cost for a contractor to do the complete job.
Grady County actual expenses for Tired Creek Lake were $862,214 in 2016 and that figure is down to $553,659 in the 2018 proposed budget, but many of the residents who attended the two hearings Tuesday voiced issues with the lake.
At Tuesday morning’s hearing, Terry Akridge, 111 Wood Duck Dr., complained that the public does not have a good “impression of what you’re doing with the money for the lake. All this money is going out and what are we getting for that? Personally, I’d like to see an accounting of what has been spent on that lake.”
Commissioner T.D. David commented at Tuesday night’s hearing that, in his opinion, the county could do a better job of informing the public on what has been spent on the lake and what will be spent in the future.
Commissioner David also said that the money being spent now was an investment in an asset that would be here and benefit the county for 100 years.
Rhonda and Gary Keve, 169 Lewis Rd., both had comments related to the lake. Gary Keve said at times it appeared no one at the county level managing the lake appeared to know what they were doing. Rhonda Keve also questioned the loss of potential revenue from the timber harvest after N&W Timber was allowed to leave some trees in the lake bed.
Michael Bishop, 1679 Woodridge Place, told commissioners “Right or wrong we’ve go it (the lake), but we have to live within our means.”
Also at Tuesday night’s hearing was Mark Bishop, 1874 Lakewood Dr. S.E., who questioned the increased residential values. Bishop said he was aware of sales prices for homes larger than his in his neighborhood had sold for less than $200,000. Bishop said that values in Thomasville and other areas were increasing, but that had not been the case in Grady County.
During Tuesday morning’s hearing, Gordon Clyatt, 163 Ridge Run, asked county officials when a reappraisal of residential property had last been done.
Chief Appraiser Susan Bennett said the last time was in 2009, when she said she lowered values due to the effects of the economy. “No one complained when we lowered them,” she said.
Clyatt questioned why the county would wait so long to do a reappraisal and then hit the property owners with $32 million increase in one year.
Former county commissioner Billy Poitevint, 1926 Stage Coach Rd., also challenged Bennett over his reassessment Tuesday morning. According to Poitevint, between his primary residence and a residence he owns in Cairo he is facing a 32 percent increase over last year. He said his home in extreme north Grady County could not be compared with homes that are sold in south Grady County. “There is no demand for houses in the area where I am,” the former commissioner said.
Tuesday night Bennett told the audience that her office had done a revaluation of land values in 2013, but that it was residential property that was determined to be too low based on recent sales.
The chief appraiser and her staff said they had the records of residential sales to back up their reassessments. Bennett also reminded the audience Tuesday night that the increased values did not impact what people pay in taxes unless the county commissioners decide to spend more and have to increase the millage rate to fund the budget.
Grady County Commission Vice Chairman Ray Prince said that due to residential values being at 37.3 percent rather than closer to 40 percent the county could be fined $5 per parcel. According to Bennett, there are 14,000 parcels in the county.
“If we don’t do this, this year the county will be fined by the state and it will be sizable,” Prince said.
The vice chairman also told local taxpayers at both the morning and evening hearings that the board is continuing to examine the budget and looking to make cuts wherever possible.
After hearing many of their fellow citizens complain, two other former commissioners, Charles Norton and George Thomas III, expressed sympathy for the commissioners.
Thomas suggested that only one of the four commissioners on the panel had faced opposition. “Step up and try this job one time,” Thomas urged.
Norton concurred and stated, “Everyone should serve at least four years on this board and you would have a lot different feeling about the situation.”