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By Eric Stirgus November 14, 2012

Officials correct outdated claim

PolitiFact Georgia was surfing some websites in the Atlanta area recently when it spotted an interesting claim listed under Clayton County "facts" on its government website.

"Clayton County offers the lowest operating millage rate in Metro Atlanta," it said.

Local governments are constantly boasting about various advantages to encourage people to move their business, or their families, into that city or county. The statement on Clayton’s website, which suggests homeowners could pay lower property taxes than any other part of metro Atlanta, intrigued us.

PolitiFact Georgia called Wade Starr, a former state representative from Clayton who now manages the county’s government operations. He said the statement was probably posted on the website a long time ago, based on some outdated information.

"It needs to be updated, probably," Starr said. "Right now, I think there would be some other counties that would be lower than we are."

We decided to take a look.

For those unfamiliar with the term millage rate, it is a formula governments use to determine how much property owners in a city or county should pay in taxes for police, firefighters and other government services. One "mill" equals $1 of property taxes for every $1,000 of assessed value. In Clayton County, the net 2012 tax year millage rate was 14.918.

PolitiFact Georgia reviewed the most recent government millage rates we found in some counties that either border Clayton or have a population of similar size.

In Cherokee County, which has a population slightly smaller than Clayton’s, the millage rate for operations, fire and a parks bond was lower, at 9.99 mills. Henry County, which abuts Clayton and  has about the same population, raised its millage rate this year to 14.5 mills. In Cobb County, the millage rate was 11.11. DeKalb County’s millage rate was higher than Clayton’s, at 21.21. These millage rates do not include school operations, which are typically higher than the government operations.

Starr said the recession, which officially began in 2008, hit the Clayton housing market worse than other counties. In 2008, Clayton had the region's largest price drop, with homes falling 43 percent in value, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Home Sales Report. The county's typical appraised value for 2010 was $90,589, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis, a decline of 25 percent from the prior year. The typical sale price, meanwhile, was $80,656.

Starr talked about the decline in home values with us, saying he paid about $2,400 in property taxes in 2009. In 2011, Starr said he again paid about $2,400 in property taxes.

In 2008, Clayton’s net millage rate was 8.962 mills, according to county records. That’s about 6 mills less than it is now. Around that time, the millage rate was the second-lowest among the five highest-populated counties in the region, according to a comparison done by Fulton County. Cobb had the lowest rate, the comparison showed.

Starr said the information on that part of Clayton’s website was probably posted around that time. He said there was other information on that part of the website, such as the county’s population, that could be traced to that time.

Starr said Friday that the claim about the millage rate would be removed from the county’s website. We checked on Monday and it was gone.

In closing, the county’s website claimed it had the lowest operating millage rate in metro Atlanta. That information, the county now says, was based on outdated information and was going to be removed. Kudos to Clayton for correcting the information. The claim was False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Clayton County facts.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Housing slump uneven, but wide," May 24, 2009

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Foreclosures, frustration define Clayton's market," Dec. 20, 2010

Clayton County government Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

Clayton County budget hearing notice, July 26, 2011.

Cherokee County millage rates.

DeKalb County government tax commissioner’s office millage information.

2012 Fulton County budget, Page 15.

Gwinnett County government millage rate information.

Henry Herald, "BOC raises millage rate," Aug. 1, 2012.

Telephone interviews with Clayton County government manager Wade Starr, Nov. 5 and 9, 2012.

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