TIFTON -- Four private citizens attended the first two of three public hearings held by the Tift County Board of Commissioners Thursday to discuss the proposed increased millage rate.

Citizens have one last chance to express their concerns at 10 a.m. Aug. 13 before the fiscal 2002 budget is adopted as planned.

"The meetings are designed to receive public input regarding the proposed millage increase," Chairman Buddy Bryan said Thursday.

The hearings are required by state law anytime local governments raise property taxes or do not roll back tax rates when there is an increase in the tax base. The hearings are held in the commission's meeting room on the second floor of the Charles E. Kent Administrative building on Tift Avenue.

Only one citizen asked a question: "Exactly what is the amount of the increase?"

A 1.77 mill increase is needed to cover the budget of $16,669,573. If approved during the county's regular workshop meeting at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 13 as planned, the new millage rate will be set at 13.75 mills.

The budget year officially began July 1. Tift County Administrator Wayne Johnson said Thursday an extension had been granted for Tax Commissioner Gene Goode to have the tax digest presented to the Georgia Department of Revenue for approval. The original deadline was Aug. 1.

The final amount of millage increase could be reduced slightly, but laws prevent a millage rate increase once the digest is submitted in Atlanta.

Several commissioners pointed out that the Tift County Board of Education's millage rate is set at 11.31 mills and that the State of Georgia tacks on .25 mills to the total county taxes citizens pay.

Those in attendance at the public hearings were shown a 15-minute-long video prepared by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia explaining the state's property tax system.

Property taxes are "levied to make up the difference between all other revenues collected and what is needed." The video explained how county commissions have no role in determining property values and only appoint boards of assessors and fund the operation of assessors' offices. State law mandates that every county revaluate property periodically to keep the tax digests at fair market value. If the state finds that the appraised properties are under market value, it levies fines until local boards of tax assessors raise the digests' values to equal the state mandates.

According to the video, counties have paid $600,000 in fines for undervaluing real property in the last 12 months and "No county's digest was rejected because their digest was too high!"

The video stated that citizens could appeal to the counties' boards of tax assessors, boards of equalization and then to superior courts if they they disagree with the assessed value.

According to information in the video, 60 percent, or $2.9 billion, of the nearly $5.9 billion in Georgia property taxes is paid to operate schools. Twenty-six percent, or $1.29 billion, goes to operate counties and 13 percent, or $676 million, goes to operate cities, special service districts and other levies.

The state received $40.4 million, not including digest fines.

Commissioners plan a joint city/county meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the West Nile Virus. Dr. Lynn Feldman will discuss the virus and precautions to take to prevent its contraction. The regular workshop session is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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