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Taxes: With land values down, county raises tax rate

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Property values from DeBordieu through Litchfield fell more than 4 percent in the past five years, and Georgetown County Council this week began the process of raising millage rates to meet its budget requirements.

Reassessment saw the values of all taxable property, including real estate, vehicles, boats, aircraft and business personal property, fall 4.1 percent in the tax district that runs from Winyah Bay to Murrells Inlet and 4.62 percent in the town of Pawleys Island. The average decline in those two districts is 4.16 percent, and the average decline for the entire county is 2.53 percent.

County Council passed second reading of an ordinance this week to raise the county’s millage rate 1.4 mills to 57.4, the Midway Fire District millage .5 mills to 12.3 and the Environmental Services Fund .1 mills to 3.1. The council will consider final reading Tuesday, and tax notices will be printed Wednesday and go into the mail.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway said the calculations are intended to be “revenue neutral” with the rise in millage compensating for the fall in value. The same scenario played out in 2009 when property values fell, and the millage was adjusted. Hemingway said the new reassessment represents more fallout from the recession and he expected beach property to take the biggest hit.

“In 2009 we were in the dumps, but it hadn’t bottomed out yet,” Hemingway said. “Values fell for two more years, and they are coming back up at a much more gradual rate.” Without strong new car sales and several big commercial developments on the Neck, the assessment drop would have been even greater.

The Murrells Inlet-Garden City tax district saw a drop of just .58 percent in assessed property value. Hemingway said commercial development in that area has been strong in past five years to support growth. With the rising millage rate, taxpayers in Murrells Inlet-Garden City can expect to pay more because their values held steady.

Hemingway said the millage increases would be necessary to continue implementation of the county pay raises previously approved.

The Georgetown County School District isn’t likely to raise its tax rate, Superintendent Randy Dozier said. He wasn’t aware of the drop in values and didn’t know what impact that might have.

In June, the school board approved a 2.1 mill tax increase this year to raise teacher salaries. That was the maximum allowed under the state tax reform law known as Act 388 that was passed in 2006.

Unlike counties, school districts don’t tax owner-occupied homes to fund operations. Under Act 388, they get funding through a 1-cent state sales tax instead. However, the district does assess owner-occupied homes for debt service. It has a reserve in both its operating and debt service accounts that could be used to make up any shortfall, Dozier said.

“We probably would be OK,” he said. “I’d have to run the numbers.”

Dozier did get a reassessment notice last week on his home at Wachesaw Plantation. “Mine looks like it went up,” he said.

Taxpayers will still be able to appeal reassessments after receiving tax notices, Hemingway said.

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