Thursday, August 6, 2009

County Seeks to Bill Taxes

Gwinnett County’s 2009 millage rate and tax billing have been tangled in the ongoing Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) dispute with Gwinnett cities and as a result, Gwinnett County filed a petition for a Temporary Collection Order (TCO) last month. The TCO hearing will be held on Aug. 11 at 1:30 p.m. in Gwinnett Superior Court. The TCO is a remedy of law for local governments that allows the billing of property taxes to occur without an approved tax digest from the State Revenue Commissioner. The State Revenue Commissioner has not certified Gwinnett’s tax digest, due primarily to the fact that the government has not set a formal millage rate. The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners denied a proposed millage rate in June after holding three public hearings on a proposed tax increase.

“The delay in tax billing negatively impacts the County, the school system and the cities – primarily from the lack of available resources to pay the expense of operations,” said Commission Chairman Charles Bannister. “We (the Board of Commissioners) were prepared to move forward in July with a millage rate adoption that would have been revenue neutral to the County.” This contemplated rate would have produced the same amount of tax revenue as the County received in 2008. In addition, the rate structure also would have been compliant with state law in regard to the Georgia insurance premium tax statute. However, the cities stated they would file an injunction if the Board proceeded to adopt the millage rate. Therefore, the County felt the best alternative was to seek a TCO in order to move forward temporarily with 2009 tax collections.

The TCO only allows the billing of 2009 taxes based on a temporary millage rate. Ultimately, the Board of Commissioners must adopt the final millage rate publicly, and the tax digest must be approved by the State Revenue Commissioner. The millage rate contemplated in the TCO maintains the revenue neutral status previously contemplated by the Board of Commissioners, meaning taxes collected in 2009 will yield the same revenue as the County received in 2008. Once a final millage rate is set by the Board, the 2009 property taxes will be reconciled and taxpayers will receive an adjustment.

The 2009 temporary millage rate proposed in the TCO is 10.94 for taxpayers in unincorporated Gwinnett County and 12.00 for taxpayers in incorporated Gwinnett. By comparison, the 2008 adopted county rate was 10.97. In accordance with state law, the unincorporated taxpayers are due a rollback for insurance premium taxes, which equates to 1.06 mills. More than 80 percent of county citizens live in unincorporated Gwinnett.

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