The property tax burden in rural Georgia

The Jacksonville, Fla., News does a nice job explaining that, contrary to what many think, the property tax burden is highest in some of Georgia’s poorest, more rural counties – and it’s not a situation in which a sales tax would fix anything:

Getting away from the hustle and bustle, the noise and the traffic sometimes comes with a larger tax burden. The tax rates that property owners pay in rural Southeast Georgia counties are as much as 50 percent more than those living in counties with higher populations.

The property tax rate is set in mills – one-tenth of a cent. One mill produces $1 in tax revenue for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value.

In Glynn County, for example, the millage rate differs between districts depending on the level of services, such as fire protection and other factors. Because it has its own fire department and law enforcement, Jekyll Island residents pay some of the lowest tax rates in the county and region at 20.461 mills. The rate at Sea Island is 22.872 mills.

In Charlton County, about an hour’s drive away, residents often complain about the high tax rate, currently set at 36.87 mills.

And the amount generated by one mill in taxes is vastly different from county to county -about $5.3 million in Glynn County and $1.7 million in Camden County, where the rate is 26.7 mills. In Charlton County, one mill raises only about $334,000 in taxes.

The reason for the difference is driven by population, commercial development and the value of residences, county officials said.

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27 comments Add your comment

Rob Vinson

January 25th, 2010
1:25 pm

So what’s the point? The assessor’s offices set the fair market values and the commissioner’s offices set the millage rates and collect taxes based on the assessed values. It takes “X” amount to run a county government, including schools, fire departments, police departments, county government etc., so they have to get it somehow. Obviously fair market values are much higher in the Sea Island portion of Glynn County than Jeckyll Island, (which has for the most part ground leases with the state), so Glynn County collects more taxes from there because of the inflated fair market values, and high millage rates. I am certain that the people who own property on Sea Island expect to be paying a lot more in taxes than say the property owner in Camden County or Charlton County. Of course the effective tax rates are going to be higher in those areas because the value of the real estate is not as high as Glynn County. Whatever amount of money it takes to run a county has to be raised and it’s hard to say one county is paying more than the other one because the values and millage rates are all different.


January 25th, 2010
1:35 pm

Why does Georgia need 159 counties and the resulting redundancy of services? Couldn’t the state be more efficient with fewer counties?


January 25th, 2010
1:37 pm

They want their local control, let them pay for it. Don’t want my tax dollars to go and support services 100 miles from where I live. Even though I know my sales tax money does already.


January 25th, 2010
1:58 pm

Clueless, you have a good point, but do you think that Lester Lackluster, the Lord High Gongbeater of Podunk County, will easily give up the power and prestige of his mighty position in the name of efficiency? Furthermore, his constituents probably hate the folks in neighboring Rottenborough County and would die before consolidating with them. Some of these counties are so underpopulated that their high schools have trouble fielding enough boys for a football team, but they continue to exist on the margins of civic life.

Wet Dogs Smell Good

January 25th, 2010
2:05 pm

Most of rural Georgia pays the minimum millage, something like 6 mils. Metro Atlanta subsidies Rural Georgia schools with our higher millage rate, and higher valuations.


January 25th, 2010
2:21 pm

Wet Dog could you explain that please?


January 25th, 2010
2:25 pm

It makes sense that rural counties would have higher millage rates.

There is a baseline ammount of money that must be spent regardless of the size of a county and value of its property. Every county will have a fire engine for example. The price of the Fire Engine is a fixed expense. If the total value of the property in a county is such that a low millage rate would not generate enough revenue to purchase fixed expenditures, then the millage rate must be increased.

These people I am sure love to complain about their plight, but its pretty straight forward math. The fact is that they are buying property in South East Georgia for as low as $1500 an acre and as high as $3500. Compare that to the value of property on Jekyll Island as the article used. An acre on Jekyl would cost around 10 times what it does in these rural places. The county would generate a ton more revenue even at a much lower millage rate.


January 25th, 2010
2:32 pm

I live in SE GA county population about 14000! My school tax millage alone is 14.67 mills! Damn good schools though!


January 25th, 2010
2:32 pm

shane, not sure but i think education grants have some form of property tax equalization though it may not be full equalization. so it means some subsidation may occur, maybe some experts on education funding could chime in.


January 25th, 2010
2:34 pm

What angers me, is the dang high valuation of some property. Just ask a banker who holds the mortgage what the home is REALLY worth???? At today’s real estate market prices, most, if not all the homes in good old Georgia, are worth far less than the value assigned to them…..but do the assessor’s care? Their attitude is, “Who cares, I’m paid to do a job.”


January 25th, 2010
2:35 pm

Thanx tc I was going to see if our system was signed up! School tax is half our millage!


January 25th, 2010
2:55 pm

catfish, what you wrote is true. It also seems unfair on the surface, but its necessary that the assessors don’t start dropping rates. The problem is that our counties spent money based on future estimated tax revenues. When property values fell, so did revenues. Add that to the fact that MANY neighborhoods, office parks, and retail businesses were planned and abandoned, and that is why we are so short on revenue now.

I know I am the only American left who believes this, but I don’t mind paying taxes. Do I wish the government spent more wisely? Sure, but I do not want the services cut just so I can pay less. I have all I need and could afford to pay a little more even so that our schools don’t get hurt further in the process. By raising my millage rate just 2 mills, no dekalb county teacher would see a furlough day. No academic program would be cut. And do you know what that would cost me? $165 a year. I will GLADLY pay it.

Pat Kay

January 25th, 2010
4:12 pm

Our economy is not in trouble because we don’t pay enough taxes. It’s because our politicians SPEND TOO MUCH! Lets look at where we can cut the fat and taxes before we start adding more taxes…


January 25th, 2010
4:44 pm

Inno, you’re not alone. Sober adults understand that taxes are the dues we pay for police, fire, transportation, public education, Medicaid, Medicare, environmental protection, etc.

Pat, most Ga. politicians are Republicans. Have you ever considered that most of the fat has been cut? This would be an inconvenient thought for your ideology, of course, but it might be true. Our economy is in trouble in large part because of the libertarian belief that banks didn’t need regulating, the markets would just do the right thing….even Alan Greenspan has seen the error of that.


January 25th, 2010
5:34 pm

Inno and BPJ. Count me in. I understand why we pay taxes and would gladly pay more (within reason) to improve our school system.

The thing about high property valuations is, if all were reviewed across the board in a county, with today’s real estate market, many valuations would be reduced. We still want and need the services our taxes cover. So it would be necessary for the commissioners to increase the mil rate to make up for the lower valuations. It may appear fairer to see an adjusted value reflecting the current market, but if reduction in property taxes is the goal, I don’t see that happening.


January 25th, 2010
5:44 pm

imno should be paying much more tax then. I don’t want to, too much $$$ wasted. I want gov’t salaries cut, services cut & those with big incomes to pay much more.


January 25th, 2010
6:02 pm

Surely the folks on Jekyll Island pay a municipality tax or fee that provides for the fire department and police. If you add that in to the county millage, it should be fairly close to what people in Charlton County pay. At least you would think that to be the case.

It would be nice if the reporters on these stories actually tried to elucidate a true apples-to-apples comparison as opposed to simply regurgitating millage rates they looked up at the GA Tax Assessor’s website at 11pm last night.


January 25th, 2010
7:08 pm

Wankine, I don’t think Lester Lackluster and his friends want to give up their power and prestige, which is why this will never happen, but one would think that the Party of Less Government and Lower Taxes might advocate this oh-so-obvious solution to lower Georgia taxes?

Bobby Anthony

January 25th, 2010
8:24 pm

We are running in unchartered economic waters. Globalization has shifted resources in new directions. The United States and a few other industralized countries used to consume a disproportionate share of the worlds resources. Other nations are now claiming more and the amount available to us is dwindling. This trickles down to individual households finding they now have less to spend.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by politicalinsidr, Tek Loong Lee and Audry West, can can. can can said: The property tax burden in rural Georgia: The tax rates that property owners pay in rural Southeast Georgia … [...]

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January 26th, 2010
6:59 am

Rob, Good comment. It’s really just simple math. X dollars in revenue needs to be generated and the two components are value and rate. If the value side goes down, the rate side goes up in order to generate x revenue. If, in rural Counties, there is less value, the rate will be higher to generate the x revenue. Same thing applies in reverse. The realization that 99% of the GA legislators as well as many of the journalism professionals in this state explains quite a bit about where we are in this debate.


January 26th, 2010
12:47 pm

It seems like rural people in Georgia are getting the short end of the stick! First, I hear about taxes raising on cell phones so our landline system can improve, because, yes people, it is in fact the beginning of the 20th century. And now this!? For rural Georgia to get on, we need lower taxes and an investment in 21st century technology!

Garry Owen

January 26th, 2010
12:56 pm

A lot of counties in NE GA tha that contain forest service land are at a disadvantage tax wise. Many of these counties are considered “wealthy” because of land value (private land). Are the people wealthy? No. Also, many of these so called “wealthy” counties are required by the state to give up school tax revenue to so called “less wealthy” counties in order to make the first 5 mills of school funds equal state wide. Is this fair to the children, parents, community, and county? NO!


January 26th, 2010
4:59 pm

And the point of this article is????

Look, if I live in a huge rural county with 10000 people and I want water, electricity, telephone, schools, police and fire, then I am going to pay more than if the county had 20,000 or 30,000 people.
There are “economies of scale” happening. Whether the county has 10, 20 or 30 thousand people, the police/fire/schools will cost just about the same amount…. with the land typically valued LESS in the more rural county. Therefore, the county with just 10000 people will pay about 2-3x more than the county with 30000 people for the same amount of services.


January 26th, 2010
5:44 pm

While your looking, look at some of the school systems in rural Georgia, and what portion of their budget they get from local property taxes, and compare that to the urban areas. For example, Warren County receives 30% of their school budget from local property taxes. DeKalb is about 80%.


January 29th, 2010
11:07 pm

Ok…it looks like we’re getting worse and worse with taxes, not better. Just saw this on peachpundit:

Can you believe this? AT&T is buying out the legislature to raise our cell phone taxes, and the revenue will be used to subsidize rural providers and land lines. Geez. This is not the way to econ. recovery