MILTON, Ga. — In a split vote, the Milton City Council voted Aug. 12 to raise the millage rate to its legal cap of 4.731 mills, the same rate the city held from 2006-17. The 11 percent increase comes after the city lowered its tax levy for the first time in 2018 in the wake of soaring property assessments.
The heart of the council’s debate was centered on the bevy of projects Milton is looking to implement — including the conversion of the former Milton Country Club property into a park and improvements to Providence Park and the city’s trails system. The question was whether the city should save taxpayers some dollars or use revenue gained from a millage rate increase to help fund the projects.
The council ultimately chose to raise the rate in a 5-2 vote, with councilmembers Matt Kunz and Rick Mohrig in opposition. For a home with an assessed value of $400,000 with a basic homestead exemption, the increase will mean an approximate $75 annual hike over the city’s 2018 rollback rate.
City Manager Steve Krokoff said services would not have been affected by keeping the tax rate the same as last year, but it would have resulted in deferring some of the capital initiatives. The city’s presentation to the council added that a delay in projects could mean higher costs in the future, using basic road maintenance versus a full repaving as an example.
Councilman Peyton Jamison voted in favor of the increase.
“I think our citizens are satisfied with our level of service, and we have promised them Providence Park, Milton Country Club…I’m fully happy to keep it at 4.731,” he said.
Mayor Joe Lockwood said in his talks with residents, an overwhelming majority were in favor of raising the tax levy back to its historic level to fund projects.
“As a citizen, I’d be all for lowering the millage rate myself, I get hit as hard as…any of our citizens,” he said. “But as a city on this side of the table, I look at the needs and desires of citizens, and again, I could say 100 to 1 [people] want improvements and quality of life.”
Councilwoman Carol Cookerly echoed Lockwood’s statements based on her talks with residents.
“I don’t take anybody’s increase lightly, but the aggregate is very helpful to build out for the greater good without having to defer [projects],” Cookerly said.
Councilwoman Laura Bentley said she was in favor of the increase because she did not want to compromise the city’s pay-go funding system.
After the city deferred some projects in lowering the rate last year, Councilman Joe Longoria said he did not want the city to “get behind” on its initiatives.
Kunz and Mohrig took up in opposition. Kunz argued that funding for Milton’s projects can come from other avenues, including local options sales tax or impact fees. He also shared the sentiment of a resident who spoke in the public comment period stating Greenspace Bond dollars could be used to improve the city’s current parks, and not exclusively for land purchases. Kunz said residents passed a referendum that clearly stated funds could be used for park improvements.
“There are other revenue sources to achieve the level of services everyone wants to maintain,” Kunz said.
Mohrig said the city could be more flexible in its spending without cutting services.
With the increase, residents can still receive tax savings through county and city exemptions. Homeowners can apply for a basic homestead exemption ($15,000), senior exemptions ($15,000, $25,000 or full value exemption based on age and/or income) or a disability exemption (full value exemption).
The new floating homestead exemption available in North Fulton cities multiplies the lowest assessed value of a home from 2016, 2017 or 2018 by the inflation rate increase from December 2015-17 to determine the adjusted, base-year rate. That figure is then used to calculate the home’s assessed value. The resulting figure is then subtracted from the 2019 assessed value to determine the exemption.
According to the city, for a home valued at $340,000 in 2017 and at $460,000 in 2018, the floating homestead exemption would stand at over $42,000, a savings of over $250 to taxpayers.