Chastain’s Public Comments Tie Taxes to County Success
Upson County Tax Commissioner Andy Chastain submitted a prepared statement to be read at last week’s county commission meeting. Chastain recently filed civil action against commission chairman Norman Allen, the Board of Tax Assessors, and Upson County regarding suppression of his personal information on a public website after alleging threats were made against him by a “disgruntled” taxpayer.
Following is Chastain’s statement, part of which was read during the “public comments” portion of the commission meeting:
“I understand from recent public comments made by a board member that he was bothered by the negative talk earlier this year about the county’s general fund balance and that some of the comments were not factual. So, I’d like to take this opportunity to expound on these comments from a taxpayer’s point of view and present some facts and truths about taxes and the general fund balance that has grown substantially over the last three years, mostly due to property tax revenue.
“It seems the picture being painted by this board member for the public to hear is filled with half-truths and not all the facts when it comes to taxation and fund revenue growth.
“It’s my opinion that the comments made earlier this year were not made to be negative, but in order to shed some light on the amount of excess taxes that our citizens are being charged while this fund continues to grow. So let’s start with some facts and truths:
“It’s a truth that Upson County, for two years in a row, has once again been declared to be in the best shape financially that it’s been in for almost 40 years, which has put the county in a great position to not have to borrow money to operate any longer. And it’s a fact that the board has made some wise decisions to benefit our community, such as the TSPLOST to pave roads and saving money in expenditures where it could.
“It’s also true that the board does not set the value of property, but it’s a fact that they do set the millage rate that ultimately determines the amount of taxes paid by our citizens. So yes, the amount of county taxes that are billed lie solely at the feet of the county board because the board does have the ability to roll the rate back or increase it at will, based on budget needs or to provide tax relief such as what was done in 2012.
“It’s also a fact that just because a governing authority rolls back millage rates to meet the standards required by the state of not having a tax increase does not mean an individual’s taxes will not go up, especially in a year where there is a big revaluation in property such as this year. What bothers me is that some board members comment in a way that attributes a tax increase due to this revaluation when, in essence, taxes are ultimately controlled by the millage rate the board chooses to set.
“Another fact concerning the county no longer borrowing money to operate on and fund growth: It’s a fact the year-end balance for 2018 was $8.3 million; of course this was after the majority of property tax revenue came in, and that was after a year-end balance of $6.6 million in 2017, which reflects a growth of $1.7 million.
“So we move to 2019, when there was no money borrowed to operate during the year and the year-end balance, according to documents provided, exceeded $10.8 million. By doing simple math, the fund grew over $2.5 million by the end of 2019 or first part of 2020. Again, this growth occurred in a year when we borrowed no money to operate.
“My question here is: What was that growth due to? Did the board save that much in expenditures or was it due to taxpayer revenue? My guess is tax revenue made up the biggest portion of that growth. So we have board members that are bothered by all the facts not being told when someone addresses an issue of concern that involves our taxpaying citizens?
“What bothers me is that we have board members not relaying all the facts properly when they make public statements or dealing in half-truths in order to deflect the spotlight when it comes to taxation.
“What else bothers me is that with all this growth in revenue, clearly due to taxpayer revenue, the board has not looked into the idea of giving our taxpayers some real tax relief, such as higher homestead exemptions on county taxes or maybe some type of tax relief in rollbacks as was done in 2012.
“Upson County has one of the lowest homestead exemptions for homeowners in the state. The $2,000 homestead exemption provided now by the county was actually put in place in the early 1960s by the state and then adopted by the county later. Many, many other counties have moved on and increased their exemptions for homeowners far above what is offered by Upson.
“For example, an additional $5,000 in homestead exemption for each homeowner would result in approximately $220,000 in county tax revenue loss each year. Surely, with the county bringing in an excess of $5.6 million in [maintenance and operation] tax revenue each year, we can afford to help our taxpayers in some way.
“This year would have been an excellent year to help those that may be struggling due to COVID-19 or other financial issues.
“Admittedly from the county, we’ve seen a substantial increase in general funds during the last 10 years. And it’s a fact that we need to have a reserve fund amount set aside for emergencies, bond ratings, and repairs. But how much is enough? Why can’t a board member have the vision to find a way to accomplish the county’s financial goals and at the same time share the wealth with our hard-working taxpayers?
“After all, it’s [taxpayers’] money that’s played a major part in this substantial growth.
“Finally, instead of paying tribute to the accomplishments of this board and other officials that have played a role in the county’s great financial status at this time, how about recognizing who this accomplishment really belongs to: The Upson County taxpayers who sacrifice, despite the hardships some of them face on a daily basis.
“It may be wise to remember the days when we needed $50 or $100 to make ends meet, or to come sit in my office during tax season and talk with those that have lost a spouse or had a serious health issue and seen their income decrease from these events, and tell them that they still have to pay their taxes or face a tax foreclosure.
“It’s all about perspective and doing what’s right for those in need.”
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