Henry County Looking at Tax Increase for Public Safety

Photo shows a fire engine and ladder truck on the apron in front of a fire station (Clayton Carte photo).
(Clayton Carte photo)

Henry County is considering a property tax increase for public safety needs. The increase, if adopted in July, would be the county’s first increase in the millage rate since 2016.

The tax increase is 1.926 mills. This would cost about $200 more in taxes for a home valued at $300,000. The exact amount for each property owner varies depending on one’s homestead exemptions, whether they are within a city, and property value.

Public Safety Tax Increase

Henry County commissioners held a budget workshop meeting on Tuesday, April 9. A key topic of discussion was a public safety tax increase. County staff are proposing a tax increase of 1.926 mills to pay for public safety needs.

It is important to note the police service district is paid by unincorporated areas only. This is because each city has its own police department. In addition, the fire service district covers all of Henry County except McDonough. The county seat has a city fire department. Three of the county’s four cities, however, charge a municipal property tax to help pay for city services. The property tax rate is different between unincorporated areas and each city because of these factors.

Henry County has maintained a millage rate of 12.733 mills since 2016. This is the rate for unincorporated areas. Under the proposed tax increase, the millage rate would be 14.659 mills. The exact number, down to the thousandth of a mill, could see further revisions.

Frozen Exemption

Henry County has a frozen homestead exemption. This means homeowners pay the same amount in county government taxes year-to-year regardless of changes in their property values. Homeowners saved $34 million dollars in 2023 because of the frozen homestead exemption. Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article mistakenly said $38 million.

The frozen exemption does not apply to the school board portion of property taxes. When homeowners see a large increase in their property taxes, it is in the school board taxes. Henry County Schools collects 20 mills for operations and 3.628 mills for bond debt.

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Public Safety Needs

Public Safety Director Mark Amerman expressed the police department’s call volume rose 27% in 2023. Based on new developments, there’s a need for 51 new officers. This would cost the county $8 million dollars to train and equip the new officers during their first year.

Fire Chief Jonathan Burnette shared the county’s fire service last opened a new station in 2018. There’s been no increase in service level since then. Meanwhile, the department’s call volume increases on average 5–6% each year. The county’s ISO rating, a measure of the fire service, is up for review next year. The chief expressed concern the department’s rating will drop. If this occurs, then it can cause homeowners’ insurance rates to increase.

One factor which ISO considers is training facilities. The department does not presently have a training center. Building a new training center is a top priority for the department right now.

Capital Buildings

The proposed tax increase will pay for not only operating expenses, but also pay off debt service. The county is planning to bond funds to pay for new capital buildings. They estimate borrowing $95 million dollars this fall to pay for projects during the next two years. In 2026, the county would borrow another $116 million for additional projects. The bonds must then be repaid over twenty years.

The following projects, and their most recent cost estimate, are part of the plan:

Phase I :: 2024-26

  • E-911 / EMA Facility – $30 million
  • Superior Court / DA’s office – $40 million
  • Jail Pod addition / Recreation Yard relocation – $20 million
  • Tax Commissioner’s office – $5 million
  • Sheriff – $3 million
  • Total: $95 million

Phase II :: 2026–28

  • E-911 / EMA Facility – $15 million
  • Fire Safety Training Center – $31 million
  • Public Safety Indoor Firing Range – $3 million
  • Superior Court / DA’s office – $30 million
  • Jail Facilities expansion – $30 million
  • Sheriff – $3 million
  • Total: $116 million

Note: totals may not add up because some projects are split across multiple phases.

Impact on the Budget

The county adopts its millage rate in July each year, but they adopt the county budget in May. Because of this, the county must tentatively know its plan for the millage rate when adopting the county budget. Property taxes form a majority of the county’s revenues to fund its budget.

The county has two upcoming public hearings in May to adopt the budget. The hearings will be on Tuesday, May 7, at 9 am and Tuesday, May 21, at 6:30 pm. Both meetings are at the county admin building in McDonough. The board will consider adopting the county budget on May 21.

Featured image shows a fire engine and ladder truck at fire station 14. Clayton Carte photo.

About Clayton 1482 Articles
Clayton Carte is the founder and owner of MHF News. He founded the site in 2017 to highlight transportation projects. Over time, he began covering other topics like new development so residents can best know what’s happening in our community.