County sets millage rates, ends old fire district tax
by Sarah Fay Campbell
The Coweta County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to stop levying property taxes in the old Coweta County Fire Protection District, known as “fire district one.”
That means residents in most of the areas that have been annexed into the cities of Newnan and Palmetto over the past 40 years will no longer be paying taxes to support the Coweta County Fire Department. The district was created in 1974, and properties that have been annexed since then remained in the fire district.
Instead, the commissioners voted to replace the 2.5 mill taxes in fire district one with a 3.08 mill tax in “fire district two,” which was created in 2008 when Coweta County issued $20 million in bonds to fund new equipment and stations for the fire department.
The old fire district had a cap of 2.5 mills, set by the state. The change will allow Coweta the opportunity, in the future, to increase funding for the fire department, if needed. However, that is not the reason for the change, according to County Administrator Michael Fouts.
The commissioners also voted Tuesday to set the county’s maintenance and operations millage rate for fiscal year 2015, which begins Oct. 1., and the fire bond repayment millage, as well as accepted the millage rate requested by the Coweta County Board of Education.
The cities of Senoia, Grantville, and Haralson aren’t technically in fire district 2. Instead, they are part of the district by contract, and the commissioners voted to approve agreements with the three cities. Haralson is a special case, and there is a special Haralson service district for fire services. The millage rate will be the same for those cities as it is in the rest of the fire district.
Commissioner Rodney Brooks voted against both the setting of the millage rate and the new agreements with Senoia, Haralson and Grantville.
When asked about his “no” vote Tuesday night, Brooks said he had his reasons but wasn’t ready to comment on them. He could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
The county is keeping the same millage rate that it has had for the past several years. Because property values are starting to rise again, that rate will result in more revenue on existing properties and, therefore, the rate is considered a tax increase. The third of three required public hearings was held at Tuesday’s commission meeting, but no one spoke.
Property values have dropped significantly since the highs of 2006 and 2007. That reduction in the tax digest – the total value of all taxable properties – “has added considerable pressure” on the county’s budget to meet the needs of the growing population. “County officials and staff have reacted by reducing staff,” delaying new projects, and other cost cutting measures, while absorbing increased health care costs, Fouts said. In the past four years, Coweta’s population has grown by 6,000, he said.
The county’s “maintenance and operations” millage rate is 6.5 for the unincorporated areas, and 7.74 for residents in the cities and towns. The fire district M&O millage is 3.08, and the fire bond rate is 2.42. The school system tax is 18.59.
The difference in the rate for the incorporated and unincorporated areas is caused by the insurance premium tax. The state of Georgia collects taxes on all insurance policies sold in the state. That tax is then returned to the cities and counties where the policy holders live. Coweta County is required by law to use the insurance premium tax to “roll back” the millage rate for residents of the unincorporated areas. The various cities get the insurance premium tax for policies owned by their residents.