Tax bills going up for Cobb homeowners

Rates stay flat but loss of state relief grant leads to increase

The state cut the homeowner tax relief grant this year, citing the budget crunch.

That means most Cobb homeowners can expect to see an average increase of $230 on their tax bill next month.

Cobb County will have to collect $11.5 million from taxpayers that it would normally receive from the state. Other local governments in Georgia will face a similar situation.

Still, Cobb will not raise its millage rate above the current 9.6 mills.

"Absolutely not," County Commission Chairman Sam Olens said.

Because property values have fallen, the county will collect less money from property owners. New construction has not made up the difference in the tax rolls.

"The tax digest is negative," Olens said. Even so, the county does not anticipate pay cuts or furloughs for county employees in the 2010 budget, which begins Oct. 1. The county's budget this year is $756 million. It will not approve next year's budget until the fall.

Cobb will receive about $703,533 less in property tax revenues this year, said the county's finance director, Brad Bowers.

Cobb County officials say their relatively small drop in revenue is thanks to conservative fiscal policies. Cobb's homestead exemption increases when property values increase and decreases when values decrease, keeping tax collections steady and less susceptible to boom and bust, Bowers said.

Still, Cobb County has felt some economic pain. The county already cut about $25 million from its 2009 budget, instituting a freeze on most overtime pay and elimination of merit raises for employees as well as axing about 34 vacant positions. Those cuts will likely carry forward into 2010. The county has had a hiring freeze for about two years and has achieved a lower payroll largely through natural attrition.

The current millage rate for Cobb County government is 9.6 mills, or $9.60 for every $1,000 of taxable property value. That does not include school board taxes.

Gwinnett County recently backed down from a proposal to raise its property tax rate by about 25 percent after citizens stormed public hearings in protest. Officials have since trimmed more than $20 million to balance the 2009 budget and get a leg up on next year's expected revenue shortfall. The Gwinnett commission has yet to set a millage rate this year. Gwinnett's rate has been 10.97 mills for the past several years.

Cobb County commissioners plan to approve a 9.6 millage rate at their meeting July 28 in the commission chambers at 100 Cherokee St., Marietta.

Staff writer Patrick Fox contributed to this article.

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