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Chairman Smith flips on county tax increase

Two weeks after losing his bid for reelection, Fayette County Commission Chairman Jack Smith — who campaigned on his record of opposing countywide tax increases — has decided a tax hike might be a good idea after all.

Smith changed his position after being told by staff last week that if the commission doesn’t raise its millage rate, it will have to take about $461,000 out of cash reserves to balance the budget this year.

When that updated figure was presented at last week’s commission meeting, Chairman Jack Smith said it might be wise for the county to increase the millage rate to avoid the shortfall.

Smith pointed out that the county is expecting to take a hit on property taxes next year for commercial properties.

“It looks reasonable for us to take the middle ground and at least run at net zero for this year instead of a deficit,” Smith said.

Doing so would “protect” the board from having to enact a significant property tax hike if the property tax decline continues, he added.

That would be a significant turnaround because up until now, and before the election, the commission seemed to have settled on absorbing the $461,000 blow by using cash reserves.

County Manager Jack Krakeel noted that between the county tax assessors department, the county board of equalization and others in the real estate industry, the general consensus is that next year the property values won’t decline as much as they did last year.

While there was an 8 percent decline in property values last year, the estimates for this year are around a 5 to 6 percent drop, Krakeel said, “barring any additional downturn in the economy which obviously could have a significant impact on that.”

Finance Director Mary Holland also noted that the county is seeing a higher rate of unpaid tax bills than normal. Three years ago the county averaged $700,000 of tax bills that had to be collected past the due date. This year that figure has reached $1.4 million, she said.

The $461,000 shortfall is blamed on the lowered property values across the county resulting in a net reduction of 8 percent in the county’s tax digest.

Beyond Smith, the other two commissioners present at the meeting, Herb Frady and Lee Hearn, didn’t indicate whether they would support a millage rate increase.

The commission is slated to make a decision on the millage rate by its regular meeting Aug. 26.

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Growing up at 110 Flamingo Street, I learned math many different ways, both in and out of school. When math was just numbers it was easy to understand.