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property taxes

How Much is Too Much?

By: Ernest Moosa

That’s the question Johns Creek residents have been asking themselves this week after their City Council voted to select a millage rate that adds millions more to a growing budget surplus.

Three Council Members(Bradberry, Coughlin, and Endres) all proposed millage rates that were lower than the Roll Back rate advertised by the City of Johns Creek.

All three did not get the necessary votes to pass.

Council Member Endres went into detail on what the Millage Rate could comfortably be based upon the financial condition of the City and the increasing reserves that are rising. We have 5.4 times more reserves than required by law. At the end of the fiscal year for 2017, Johns Creek had more than $34 million in unrestricted reserves.

At one point Council Member Coughlin pointed out there are residents that are struggling financially, even in Johns Creek.  Zaprowski informed Coughlin that there was assistance for those with low incomes.  Unfortunately, it is actually possible for a two income family in Johns Creek making decent wages(as in above average) and still be struggling. With rising medical costs, insurance costs, and overall property taxes creating a total tax burden consuming more than 56% of their income, it’s likely many families in Johns Creek are struggling to make ends meet.

Research supports this conclusion:

Total Revenues

Deficit

# of Households

Revenue per Household

Median Household Income

Revenue as % of median household income

Revenue from Median Johns Creek Household

Federal

$3,422,000,000,000

$985,000,000,000

126,220,222

$19,308

$59,039

32.7%

$35,050

State

$21,168,665,664

$0

3,611,706

$5,861

$53,559

10.9%

$11,729

School

$845,391,952

$0

195,760

$4,319

$58,851

7.3%

$7,865

County

$602,480,411

$0

385,103

$1,564

$58,851

2.7%

$2,849

City

$74,592,000

$0

26,880

$2,775

$107,176

2.6%

$2,775

56.2%

$60,267

 

Conclusion:  You have been paying too much in taxes over the last several years in Johns Creek and the amount overpaid is now over $34 million.  The City of Johns Creek has not clearly expressed the purpose of these funds.  There have been no votes on where this money is intended to go.

Council Member Lin expressed his desire to go with the higher millage rate and add the increased funds to the reserves.  This was despite Council Member Bradberry’s comments that “If you can’t vote for a cut this year, you’re never going to be able to.”

After the meeting when asked about the Millage Rate debate, Bradberry said

“The burden of proof should be heavier on those seeking to take more of the Public’s money. They had as much burden if not more than those that proposed a cut. After all, it’s the Taxpayer’s money.”

According to Mayor Mike Bodker’s  budget proposal recently submitted to the City Council(and now soliciting feedback from the residents):

Purpose:
Real and Personal Property Tax is for the purpose of raising revenues to defray the costs of operating the City, of providing governmental services, for the repayment of principal and interest on general obligation bonds, and for any other public purpose as determined by the City Council in its discretion.

It should be safe to say that some of the $34 million in unrestricted reserves are from property taxes. Those dollars have not been accumulated:

  • to defray the costs of operating the City (they would have been spent),
  • of providing government services (they would have been spent),
  • for the repayment of interest on general obligation bonds (they would have been spent),
  • for any other public purpose as determined by the City (then they would NOT be unrestricted reserves).

The only conclusion we as residents can draw is that adding ANY property tax revenues to unrestricted reserves is inappropriate unless there is a clear purpose. Why take money out of the pockets of families that need it just to add to unrestricted reserves?

Which leads us back to the original question?  How much is too much?

Our answer?  Even if it’s one dollar, it’s too much.

Change the definition of the purpose of the Property Taxes or follow it. Say what you do and do what you say.

That’s what “transparency” really looks like.

Sources: the City of Johns Creek, State of Georgia, & U.S. Government