Tonight (Monday, August 8), the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners will set the 2011 property tax rate in a specially-called meeting at 6:00 pm. The Commissioners have advertised their intent to adopt the same rate as in the last two years, 13.25 mills. (For an explanation of the millage rate, go here.)

In March, I warned you of the Commission’s plan to raise the tax rate for general operations by almost one-quarter of a mill, yet maintain the same rate as last year. They proposed to “re-align” an expiring bond (debt) millage and add it to the Maintenance & Operations (M&O) rate. I called the proposal what it was– a back-door tax increase.

One day after my article was published, soon-to-be Chairman Charlotte Nash agreed during a candidate forum that the debt millage should lapse and no longer be collected. Her position, which she still holds to this day, put her at odds with the other Commissioners who had tentatively approved the tax hike…. excuse me, “re-alignment.”

Tonight, we will see just how persuasive Chairman Nash can be. She will reportedly ask the Commission to adopt a tax rate of 13.02 mills, which is the same rate as the previous year minus the .23-mill rate for the paid-off bond debt. She will face at least two Commissioners who still support the millage “re-alignment” and one, District 2 Commissioner Lynette Howard, who pushed for a tax increase this year.

(Don’t worry– the county advertised a proposed rate of 13.25 mills. They can adopt a lower rate tonight, but not a higher one.)

“Re-alignment 2.0″

The Commissioners have discussed a millage shuffling of a different sort– continuing to collect the .23 mills (by adopting a rate of 13.25 mills tonight) but using it to pay off another debt, the bonds for the jail, a little quicker. (In recent years, the county has collected a millage for two bonds; last year, it was .23 for the now-retired debt and .24 for the jail, for a total of .47-mills.)

I can understand why the Commissioners would consider the idea. According to Moody’s, a ratings firm, Gwinnett has the third-highest debt load among Georgia counties at nearly $160 million. Paying off the jail bond early could save hundreds of thousands in interest.

I believe, however, that the taxpayers of Gwinnett would rather pay a lower tax rate this year and worry about paying off debt a little faster when the economy is better. Thousands of Gwinnett homeowners, one out of every 256, faced foreclosure in the first half of this year which, sadly, is only about 15% less than in 2010. Our unemployment rate is hovering around 9 per cent and showing no sign of improvement.

Now is the time to reduce the tax burden on Gwinnett property owners. The county has done an admirable job of cutting expenses to make even the consideration of a tax cut possible. The Commissioners should pass the benefit of a lower cost of government to the taxpayers in the form of a reduced tax rate.

If you agree with me that the Commission should lower the tax rate to 13.02 mills tonight, send them an email now at commishes@talkgwinnett.com (it will be auto-magically forwarded to all). You can also use the form here.

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