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School system proposes lowest millage rate in history and eyes more breaks for seniors

As a follow up from property tax notices that were sent out in May, we would like to take a moment to update you on the status of the 2023 millage rate. We acknowledge school finance can be complex, and taxes and inflation place a burden on everyone.  We strive to be financially responsible with public funds and transparent with our actions.

  • Notices sent out to Lamar County property owners included reassessed values calculated with an estimated tax at the 2022 school millage rate of 15.101.
  • As published according to state law, Lamar County Schools plan to decrease the school millage rate from 15.101 in 2022 by 1.101 mills to a rate of 14.0 in 2023.
  • A millage rate of 14 will be the LOWEST TAX RATE IN THE HISTORY OF LAMAR COUNTYOur student population has increased 25% since 2005, and continues to be one of only 15% of GA school systems experiencing annual student growth. We opened the doors for the 2023-24 school year with a record enrollment approaching 2,900 students.
  • This will be the 4th consecutive year the Lamar County School System has lowered the millage rate.  For the last three years, we have averaged a reduction of a FULL MILL EACH YEAR (2020 rate was 17.0; 2023 will be 14.0)
  • What does this mean to you? Taxes due on your property at a millage rate of 14.0 should be less than the notices which were sent in May (which were calculated on last year’s rate of 15.101).
  • The “Rollback Rate” is 13.862, why is the system setting the rate at 14.0? Great question! GA Code § 20-2-165 (state law) stipulates that any school system which lowers the millage rate below 14.0 will be exempt from receiving “equalization funding”. This year, Lamar County Schools will receive $821,800 in equalization funding. Losing equalization from our budget would require us to increase the tax burden back on local taxpayers. The .138 difference in the local rate actually brings in almost $1 million to the district from state funding
  • If we are reducing the millage rate, why is this being advertised as a “tax increase”? By not taking the full “rollback” (as mentioned above), the state requires we advertise a “tax increase” (even if the rate is reduced), if more taxes are being collected than the previous year. Technically, this must be advertised as a 1% increase, even though we are lowering the millage rate more than a full mill. As previously mentioned, Lamar has experienced record growth. All new homes, businesses, etc. generate property tax, resulting in higher collections than the previous year. The increase in property values from required reassessments results in more tax revenue as well.
  • Our overall tax digest is growing, why does the school system need the additional revenue?  Due to inflation, every single line item in our budget has increased: food, supplies, fuel, insurance, etc. Everything that cost citizens more, also cost the school system more, and our student population has grown. Over the last two years we’ve had to hire additional staff to account for the increase in enrollment. 
  • The 2023 tax digest in Lamar County projects more than $150 million in “tax exemptions” this year. This is a record high, and a record increase of almost $25 million in exemptions from last year alone. Exemptions place an increased tax burden on all other property owners. Exemptions also penalize the school system from receiving 100% of state funds.
  • Lamar County enjoys one of the lowest tax rates in central Georgia, despite a limited commercial tax base or revenue stream in our county (interstate traffic, etc.). 
  • We work to be extremely efficient with our budget. In 2022, of 180 school districts in Georgia, Lamar County School’s  “per student expenditure” from state, local, and federal tax funds RANKED 170th (of 180)Only 10 districts in the state of Georgia spent less per student. Lamar per student expenditure was $10,140. Over $2,500 per student lower than the state average.
  • Senior citizens in Henry County are exempt from school taxes, why do seniors in Lamar have to pay? Every county is different. While our millage rate for property owners in Lamar is 14.0, in Henry County it is 20 mills. They also have an extensive commercial collection at this rate. Being a more rural county with limited commercial and interstate tax collection, Lamar does not collect large sums from a multitude of commercial properties; we do not have sprawling lake/golf/gated communities. 
  • What are the schools doing to help seniors? In 2014 the Lamar County School Board began phasing in a senior exemption for all property owners aged 70 and above (regardless of income) at the rate of $1,000 per year from the M&O millage rate and the bond millage. In 2020 the exemption capped at a $7,000 exemption on both for seniors 70 and over. The school system is submitting a request for legislation (which requires state approval) to increase exemptions for seniors 70 and older $1,000 per year beginning in 2024. This would cap at $10,000 for both M&O and School Bond in 2026.

We share in the frustration and concerns inflation has caused Lamar County residents, and we will continue to do our part to reduce the impact, while ensuring our students receive a quality education.

We sincerely appreciate your support and strive to have an efficient school system that everyone in our community can be proud of.

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