Perhaps the chorus calling for property tax relief has been heard after all.
Effingham County voters will get the chance to vote referenda this fall freezing certain property taxes. In the meantime, governments that levy millages are working to reduce those rates.
The county, the school board and the hospital authority are projecting that they will cut their millages for next year. The industrial development authority is mandated to receive 2 mills, but it has a stated desire to be able to operate without that tax stream. It may be able to do so once its handful of massive undertakings take root and bear fruit for the county.
Last year, homeowners were stunned by vastly higher reassessments. Even as governments held the line on millages, the assessments were so much higher that property taxes, in many cases, skyrocketed.
Though the millage rate reductions don’t make up for the jump in property taxes last year, they are a step in the right direction. It’s not likely that property values will be coming down drastically anytime soon. It is expected that Effingham, for many reasons, will continue to be a desirable place to live. That means demand for land will continue to go up, not down, and with it, prices for land.
As the county grows, and more people move in, the demand for services likely will increase. That will put extra pressure on governments to find the resources to provide the services without adding more strain on the individual property owner.
Sales tax revenues are fickle and mostly are reserved for special projects, not for such things as maintenance, operations and payroll. Governments like relying on property taxes as a chief source of revenue in no small part because of their predictability. They know how much they’re going to get, or close to it, and can budget accordingly.
There are tough choices to make — county commissioners are expected to slash the allocations to non-governmental agencies, some of which do very valuable and needed work in the county. It will be difficult for some of those organizations to make up for the shortfall as the county plans to reduce its share of their revenues.
But for now, as the county is on the cusp of another wave of growth, cutting back the millage, even if it’s not as much as some would like, is a positive sign.