The Forsyth County Board of Education heard from several community members concerned about the district’s proposed budget and mileage rate during its regular meeting and hearings held on Tuesday, June 21.
BOE members passed the tentative budget and mileage rate in May, proposing a $578,498,654 budget — an increase of about $58.4 million from this past year that will help to staff New Hope Elementary and provide competitive salary increases to employees.
They also proposed keeping the operating millage rate of 17.3 mills the same for the eighth consecutive year and lowering the debt services millage rate by a full mill, from 2.418 to 1.418.
The operating millage rate helps to cover the district’s day-to-day expenses while the debt services rate helps to pay off debt payments approved by the county’s voters.
Despite the lowered debt services mileage rate, eight community members spoke to the board on Tuesday, voicing concerns about rising tax rates as property values spike across metro Atlanta and the US
What homeowners had to say
Homeowners Brian Martin and Ryan Discher said they were shocked to see how high their property values rose when they got their property assessment notices in the mail this year. Along with rising inflation causing price hikes in grocery stores and at the gas pump, they said they wonder how they will be able to pay the rising property taxes.
“I’ve talked to my neighbors,” Discher said. “They’re sitting at their kitchen table, trying to figure out what to do. I’m one of them. How do I pay for this 18% in tax increase? Do I pull my kids out of schools? Cancel our annual vacation where we make family memories? Cut back dramatically on our grocery bill despite inflation? These are questions residents across the county are asking.”
In a news release from earlier this month, Forsyth County Chief Appraiser Mary Kirkpatrick said the property assessments mailed out are based on fair market property values, which have risen by 18 to 20% over the last year. Most of these increases will go to Forsyth County Schools.
Of the overall tax digest, Kirkpatrick said 63% goes to school maintenance and operations, 17% to county maintenance and operations, 9% to school bonds, 8% to the county fire department and 3% to the county bond.
“My home, by its appraisal and assessment, has gone from $572,000 in 2020 to an estimated $856,000 in 2022,” Martin said. “My tax bill [went] from over $6,000 to now almost $9,000. It’s almost a mortgage payment by itself.”
County and district officials have emphasized, however, that the property assessment notices community members received in the mail are not bills. The dollar amount shown on the assessment is an estimate based on the previous year’s mileage rate.
FCS spokesperson Jennifer Caracciolo said if the proposed change to the debt services millage rate is approved, property owners will see a decrease in that price when bills are sent out later this year.
Another speaker at Tuesday’s hearing, Jessi Haggberg, said the district and county have not been clear to property owners about what their final tax bills will look like, making it difficult for community members to speak out when they aren’t sure exactly what the numbers mean.
“I went to art school,” Haggberg said. “I’m trying to figure this out just by guessing and I can’t get a clear answer. All I know is how much it costs every time I get that bill in the mail, and it makes my heart want to stop.”