On Tuesday, Gwinnett county commissioners retreated from a plan to raise the county’s millage rate that had drawn vocal opposition from property owners.
The commission voted 3-2 to keep the millage rate at its 2018 level, with the general fund rate set at 7.209 mills. Commissioners Tommy Hunter and Ben Ku voted against the rate.
Commissioner Jace Brooks, who made the motion to keep the rate the same as last year, said he had been leaning in that direction the entire time and said the public feedback opposed to the rate increase was appreciated.
“I felt like the wise thing to do was to keep the millage rate stable,” Brooks said. “We’ll realize some increase in revenues that will help ... through the growth (in the tax digest) and through some property value reassessments.”
The general fund rate is one of several rates that goes toward county government. Police, fire and parks funds also have millage rates, but its the general fund rate which provides funding for everyday maintenance and operations in the county government.
Even though they appear on the same tax bill, the county’s millage rate is separate from the rates which are levied by the Gwinnett County Board of Education and the various city councils in Gwinnett.
Since the county’s tax digest grew this year at least partially due to an increase in property values, some residents may still end up paying more in taxes despite the millage rate staying the same. That will depend on what exemptions they have, however.
The proposed increase in the rate to 7.4 mills drew pushback from residents in recent weeks over the increased money they’d have to spend in taxes. Some residents also called on county leaders to tighten the county’s belt on spending.
Ku said he voted against keeping the rate at the same level as last year because he “didn’t think that was the best direction for the county” because the county has to dip into reserves to cover a gap between tax revenues and expenditures.
The 2019 budget that was approved in January included the use of nearly $42.2 million from the county’s fund balance to help cover expenses.
“I just did what I felt was right,” Ku said of his vote on the millage rate.
He said his vote did not necessarily mean he thought the 7.4-mill rate was correct.
“I feel like there’s a lot of things we need to budget for and I don’t think cutting any public safety options makes sense,” Ku said.
Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, however, said she was OK with keeping the millage rate at the same level as last year.
“Obviously we still had some differences of opinion among the commissioners, but that was something that three of us could agree on and that’s what we decided to move forward with,” Nash said.
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