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County passes budget, extends Patton’s contract

Decatur County Commissioners unanimously passed its $37.6 million budget that included a property tax increase, and then went into an hour-long, closed-door session Thursday evening to extend County Administrator Tom Patton’s employment for one year.

Patton’s tenure was extended for a year with no increase in salary, commissioners said. A contract is yet to be drawn up where there will be changes to the current one and then adopted at a later date.

The vote on Patton’s pending contract was 5-1, with Chairman Butch Mosely voting against the extension, which he said the item was “sprung on” the commissioners.

According to Mosely in a written comment Friday, “My no vote last night was due to the process used, not the issue. A vote on Mr. Patton’s contract was not on the agenda, was not mentioned to me or some other board members prior to the executive session and was not the initial subject for the executive session. Therefore, I felt the process was flawed and cast the negative vote. I thought the proper procedure would have been to do the contract at a future meeting with the renewal being a listed item on the agenda with opportunity for public input.”

Patton was hired by the Decatur County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 1, 2006.

The budget

The county budget includes a millage rate increase to 9.36, which is 0.8 mills higher than the present 8.56. Next year’s budget also includes separate mills of 0.30 for the Hospital Authority and another separate millage of 0.25 for the Development Authority, for a net effective increase of 1.35 and a net effective rate of 9.91 mills.

For example, property with a taxable value of $100,000 paid $856 in county taxes last year. Next year, the property taxes for the county, hospital and development authorities would be $991, an increase of $135.

Citizens Bob Lane, Bert Steen and Turner Brock all spoke Thursday night questioning the increased property taxes and a budget that wasn’t tightened more to avoid a tax increase. Both Lane and Steen questioned the proposed new agriculture center, which county Finance Director Carl Rowland said was approved by voters in the latest Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum to house the federal and state agriculture-related offices on Vada Road.

Brock said his taxes on real estate he owns in Dothan, Ala., and Abbeville, Ala., are much lower than they are in Decatur County. For example, he estimated that his taxes in Dothan are 311 percent lower than in Decatur County.

Commissioner Russell Smith asked Brock what the sales tax rate is in Dothan, and Brock and Smith both said it was 9 percent. However, Brock said the tax burden here is falling too heavily on property owners.

Former County Commissioner Gary Phillips said he understands the tough choices the commissioners are facing, and said they can’t operate in a cigar-box mentality. And in today’s business and economic development environments, Decatur County would drop off the radar at a time when it needs more job creation, which the simpleton cigar-bar mentality won’t work now.

The new budget goes into effect on July 1.

Commissioners also canceled their meeting on June 28 because two commissioners will be unable to attend.