The decrease would be reflected in the 2013 tax bills, which go out Aug. 15.
On a home valued at $200,000, the reduction amounts to a savings of $14, said James Pehrson, director of the Cobb Finance Department.
In 2011, the board voted 3-2 with Lee, Woody Thompson and Helen Goreham in favor, to raise the property tax rate from 9.60 mills to 11.11 mills.
Lee said the recession meant that he could either raise taxes or drastically cut services, so he opted for the former approach.
The county has different millage rates for different funds. One is the fire department fund, which pays for the Cobb Fire Department. Another fund is for debt service on almost $50 million in voter-approved bonds used to purchase land for parks. The third is the general fund. Lee tapped all three funds to raise the millage rate in 2011.
For this latest proposal, Lee is leaving the fire and debt service rates the same at 3.06 and .33 mills, respectively, and would only decrease the general fund millage from 7.72 to 7.52 mills.
The reduction would cut the general fund by $4.8 million, Pehrson said. The county adopted a fiscal 2013 general fund budget of $321.8 million.
Lee explained why he is bringing this proposal forward.
“I had promised in January of this year at the State of the County that as revenue numbers improved I would do my best to reverse that millage increase we experienced as quickly as the economy and the budget would allow me to do that,” Lee said. “Although the digest is down from a year ago, we’ve had increased revenues from building-related fees and cost savings from spending reductions to enable us to do what we promised we would do, which is to roll it back .2 mills.”
Lance Lamberton of Austell, president of the Cobb Taxpayers Association and a member of the county’s citizen’s watchdog group that reviews the county’s special purpose local option sales tax program, believes the millage rate should be returned to the 2011 level.
“Maybe it can’t be done in one fell swoop, but I certainly think that with the economy undergoing a certain amount of recovery since 2011 we could be more aggressive than we currently are,” Lamberton said. “I just think that’s a drop in the bucket for what we should have. We need more of a visionary approach towards Cobb County government, and I clearly don’t think we’re getting it under the current administration.”
Lamberton wants to see a closer link between the use of county services and the cost of those services.
“I think there’s too many subsidies that are going on where people who are using county services are not paying for it,” Lamberton said. “I realize that maybe some exemptions can be exercised if you’re on public assistance or whatever. There could be an exemption for that.”
The Cobb Community Transit system, for example, has a budget of $18 million. But only 33 percent of that amount is funded by passenger fares.
“I think that the rate of subsidy should be reduced,” Lamberton said. “Ultimately, I think it should be eliminated. I have a problem with the idea of subsidies per se because that’s a misallocation of resources. It’s a transfer of wealth by force.”
Yet Lee said shaving back the millage by .2 percent is all that can responsibly be done at the moment.
“Sustainable is the important part, not only for today, but I’ve got to be able to maintain it for the ongoing budget going forward,” Lee said. “The digest (total assessed value for all property for tax purposes) went down, so we still aren’t out of the woods in that regard, so because the digest is relatively flat, and we’ve had these minor increases in the other areas, and we’ve been able to keep costs contained, we’re able to do at least .2, and that’s our goal as things improve to roll it back.”