Bryan County recently agreed to settle a lawsuit with the city of Richmond Hill.
Bryan County recently agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a lawsuit over a property tax dispute with the City of Richmond Hill. The suit itself was filed three years ago, and funds from the settlement will be used to pay for “eight different infrastructure projects, including road improvements and traffic signals, that Richmond Hill and Bryan County will work on together.”
In addition to the monetary settlement, the county will also “to stage an ambulance and EMS crew within Richmond Hill’s limits to aid the city’s growing elderly population.” On top of that, the county must “repay more than $2.5 million back to the general fund.”
What happened, though? Why was the suit filed in the first place? For starters, the suit was filed in Bryan County Superior Court and alleged the county “breached a contract by increasing property taxes for Richmond Hill property owners and also erroneously used money from the general fund for services designated for unincorporated areas.”
Richmond Hill is one of two cities in Bryan County. The other is Pembroke. The property tax discrepancy was created by Bryan County in 2018 “by adjusting the millage rate for all county residents.” However, that particular move caused concern among Richmond Hill officials “over the inequities and a nearly $20 million cash reserve resulting from the higher tax rate, leading to the filing of the lawsuit.” It’s also important to note that the millage rate increase would result in city property owners having to pay “12% more in property taxes than the previous 14 years.”
The increase was originally intended to “equalize the millage rate among Bryan County’s three tax districts: Richmond Hill, Pembroke, and the unincorporated county.” Richmond Hill officials argued that “by equalizing the millage rate, the county breached a contract called the service delivery strategy (SDS), which outlines what constitutes countywide services and who should be paying for them.”
On top of that, Richmond Hill officials and residents identified “several areas in the existing SDS agreements with the county that it says result in funding inequities and causes city property taxpayers to pay for county services that city property taxpayers do not receive, such as public works, road/bridge construction and maintenance, curbside solid waste collection and disposal, landfill, mosquito control, planning, and zoning engineering, building inspection, economic development, fire protection, jail, and other services,” according to the suit.
Shortly after the suit was filed, Richmond Hill officials stated, “To be clear, the city agrees that millage rates should be equalized for countywide services but we disagree on what that rate should be.”
When commenting on the recent settlement, Richmond Hill Mayor Russ Carpenter said:
“The City looks forward to working with Pembroke and Bryan County to address the challenges of our growing community, the fastest-growing county in the state. We have come a long way, and we have a lot of work to do together.”