County deciding how much to raise property taxes

Published 4:00 pm Friday, May 24, 2013

After Thursday’s Decatur County Board of Commissioners’ budget workshop, the question is not whether the county’s millage rate will be increased, but how much it will increase.

The county faces a projected cash shortfall of $3.3 million by the end of the 2013 calendar year. In April, the county secured a $4 million Tax Anticipation Note (TAN) loan to pay operating expenses and payroll through the end of the year. The $3.3 million is what the county anticipates to use.

State law requires that any TAN loan must be repaid by Dec. 31 of the same year. In essence, the county will have used roughly 40 percent of December’s property tax collections before the new year begins.

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Among the areas of revenue shortfalls for the county are SPLOST collections, LOST collections, landfill revenues, and Emergency Management Services revenues. The two sales-tax-related revenue streams, SPLOST and LOST, total a shortfall of $775,000 from budgeted amounts. Revenues from the county’s landfill are projected to come in $67,000 under-budget, and the EMS ambulance service is projected to bring in $130,000 less than budgeted.

Decatur County Administrator Gary Breedlove recommended to the commissioners that the county’s millage rate be increased by 3.25 mills. Of that total, Breedlove recommended that the 0.25 mills now allocated to the Industrial Development Authority should be rolled back in the county’s general fund, eliminating any funding to the IDA. The net effect to the taxpayer would be a three-mill increase in property taxes. A mill is roughly equivalent to $1 in property tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value.

That recommendation, however, drew mixed reviews from the commissioners.

“We need to try to work ourselves out of this hole a little at a time and not go whole hog,” Commissioner Dr. David C. “Butch” Mosely said. “I will support a one-mill increase, or maybe one and a half at the most, but don’t count on me for any more than that. I think we would be irresponsible.”

Commissioner Jan Godwin said, “I have talked to a lot of people and they understand the county is in a bind, but a three-mill increase would be a shock to a lot of people. I am worried about the people on a limited income who cannot afford that type of increase all at one time. I would support one mill a year for three years.”

“I certainly don’t want to go up three mills, but I don’t see how we are going to get out of this mess if we don’t do something. We might be able to go 1.5 mills this year and 1.5 mills next year,” said Chairman Russell Smith.

Commissioners Frank Loeffler and Dennis Brinson said they support the full three-mill increase. Commissioner Oliver Sellers was non-committal on what increase, if any, he would support.

“I survived before I had this job and I will survive after this job, but if we don’t do something, the county will not survive,” Loeffler said. “The county cannot afford to do nothing and I propose the three-mill increase.”

“I have talked to a lot of my constituents and they can’t really afford it, but the county cannot continue to go down the same path. I think we need to go with the three mills,” Brinson said.

The county’s fiscal year ends June 30 and a new budget must be in effect by that date. The commissioners agreed to have another budget workshop at 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 28, before the regularly scheduled commission meeting.