The turnout for the Effingham County commissioners’ budget meeting has spurred the creation of a citizens group that is calling itself “We the Taxpayers.”
More than 35 people attended a meeting, moderated by Ruth Lee, Thursday evening at the county administrative complex.
“Government is as good or as bad as we let it be,” she said, urging the group to get involved in the process. “We’re seeing some effect of citizens standing up and saying ‘no more. We want our tax dollars taken care of.’”
Lee also brought several enlarged copies of the budgets of many public agencies so the group could get familiar with where their tax dollars go.
Many were concerned that though the county millage rate had been lowered this year, land values had shot up.
“We can use it (money) better than they can. We’re all struggling,” said Alene Gay.
Said Cary Graham, “The main reason everybody’s here is that our property taxes went up so high.”
Several others attending the meeting said that they thought the county had done a good job this year with the budget, notwithstanding the earlier contention over county employees’ raises.
One participant complained that it wasn’t fair for county landowners to be taxed in the same classification that commercial land developers were in. He said that his land, which had been in his family for generations, had seen a valuation of nearly 700 percent and said that just wasn’t right.
Pete Lancaster urged the crowd to appeal their taxes if they believe they’re too high. Monday was the last day for appeals to be filed with the assessors’ office.
Lee suggested setting up a town hall meeting with the local tax officials to talk about the methods used by the local board to set tax rates.
Raymond Starling said the tax office had never had a performance review where policies and procedures are examined to see if they adhere to state guidelines and said that such a review should be requested.
The group selected Mark Czachowski to be the liaison for the group with the county. One of his suggestions was to have the county budgets posted online for everyone to see what is in it in order to give input. It was also noted that the county is looking at adding two additional people to the tax assessors’ board. Currently there are three on the board.
“We’re going to need people willing to serve,” Czachowski said.