Thoughts on Athens-Clarke Property Taxes

I haven’t written one one of these blog posts in a good while.  I have been blessed to be busy over the past several months with work, family, and other things in general which makes it hard to find time to write anything someone might read.  I will try to keep this one brief, but the topic is something any Athens-Clarke County resident should read. Please forgive my grammar as it seems to get worse with age.

As you are probably aware, our real estate market has seen an unprecedented growth in area real estate values over the last several years.  Home prices are way up, and in many cases far above the high values achieved before the crash of 2008.  Furthermore, multi-family properties are producing higher rent revenues  along with many commercial properties in the county.  Overall, the market is strong, but it has placed a stress on many first-time home buyers.  Long and short, when values go up less people can afford to buy or own a property. This is a common problem in large cities, but it is more rare in smaller communities.  By and large, this a very good thing for Athens.  It means our area is desirable and it creates more taxable revenue for the county which brings me to my point.  Clarke County property taxes will be going up yet again unless our commissioners revisit the county millage rate.

In case you don’t understand how property taxes work here is a brief explanation.  All the land in a county is divided into parcels that can be identified, owned, and taxed by the local government.  There are exceptions of course like the University of Georgia here in town which does not have to pay property taxes, but in general any privately-owned land will be taxed.  These taxes help pay for many county services and fund the local schools, so they are very important to our citizens.  Every year the county assesses a value to each taxable parcel and that value is used along with a millage rate to levy taxes on each property and its owner.  Our current millage rate is 33.95 but that can vary depending on the area of the town.  Over the last five or so years the taxable value of Athens-Clarke County property has increased well over a BILLION dollars.  While I don’t have access to the exact numbers, it is a reasonable to assume that it is well into the billions.  This is mainly due to property appreciation and not just the new construction of homes.  We do have new construction of course, but there is limited land for development in our county due to its size and land allocation.  In short, the average home owner has likely seen their property taxes increase by more than 50% over the last four years.  Most of the time, this is great news and good for our area, but I would like to point out that found money or increased revenue doesn’t have to become spent money.  Our property tax revenue is large and we already have a couple of SPLOST sales taxes in place for other projects in our community.  I am not advocating against our property taxes, but I do think it is time for our civic leaders to evaluate the county’s budget and consider a reduction to the millage rate.  All increased tax revenue doesn’t automatically have to be spent or consumed.  I think it is reasonable for our residents to see some relief in the increase of their property taxes while still providing all the services Athens has in place along with other things we might need to improve upon.  You may disagree and if so, that is A-Okay , but if you are a Clarke County home owner you have undoubtedly noticed these tax increases.  Even if you do not own a home, but instead rent property I can assure you that your landlord if able has passed down these taxes to you in the form of HIGHER RENT.

In closing, I don’t expect our leaders to roll back the millage rate.  In my experience, government tends to spend rather than save.  Nevertheless, I would be pleasantly surprised to see it happen.  Therefore, I plan to contact my district commissioner to ask that she and other commissioners consider this idea before implementing a new budget that uses all the increased tax revenue, and I encourage you to do the same.  If you would like to contact your area commissioner, please click on the link below and you can find the information.

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