Decatur County approves tax increase
Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Following more than an hour of public participation and outcry on a proposed millage rate increase in Decatur County that will see up to four mils added to residents’ tax bills in 2015, The Decatur County Board of Commissioners approved the tax increase with a 5-1 vote.
The Unincorporated districts of Decatur County will have a millage increase to a total of 15.79 mils. The cities of Attapulgus and Climax and the town of Brinson will have a total of 15.21 mils and the City of Bainbridge’s millage rate will total 14.36 mils.
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County residents in unincorporated areas will be see up to a $157 tax increase on their bills with a property value of $100,000, a 36 percent increase from last year. For the same property value, Bainbridge residents will see approximately a $103 increase and Attapulgus, Brinson and Climax residents will see around a $135 increase.
Commissioner George Anderson voted against the new millage rate.
“You have old people out there on fixed income,” Anderson said. “They can’t afford that high millage rate. They are barely getting by now. What are they going to do?”
Climax resident Doug Griffin, a retired Army Sgt. Major and a retired senior executive civilian with the Department of Defense, said he regrets moving back to the place he was born and raised.
“What I’m seeing is the unincorporated taxpayers are footing the biggest bill,” Griffin said during the public hearing. “That’s just absolutely unfair.”
Griffin asked the commissioners to explain how the distribution of taxes between Decatur County and the four municipalities is fair and equitable, “Because I don’t see it,” he said.
Red flags were raised by those who spoke on the recreation authority and hospital authorities receiving 1.5 mils and two mils, respectively.
Many opposed to the tax increase were questioning the commissioners on reasons why the Bainbridge-Decatur County Recreation Authority, an entity created through service delivery strategy mediation in March, needed 1.5 mils a year for its budget.
“In my opinion, no judge would direct the board of commissioners to tax their citizens for services that are not required by state law,” Climax resident Gary Breedlove said, referring to the recreation and hospital authority’s budgeted millage allocations. “This is a terrible disservice to the citizens and particularly the taxpayers of Decatur County.”
The board has repeatedly stated the only way to lower taxes is to bring new industry into Decatur County, and to do that, three areas needed to be strong and thriving: education, recreation and healthcare.
“Yes it’s going to cost us, but I think it’s the right thing to do,” Commissioner Russell Smith said.
“I don’t know any company that sits in a board room when making a decision to coming to a county, and asks, ‘I wonder how many ball fields they have?’” resident Stanley Phillips countered. “I just don’t think that’s accurate. I do agree on school systems and hospital.”
“If y’all raise theses taxes, it will be obvious that you really don’t care about the people who put y’all here,” resident Steven Wells said. “I guarantee the majority of the people don’t want this to happen. We can’t afford for it to happen.”
Commissioner Pete Stephens said, “I’m raising my own taxes a healthy sum. What are we to do? Close the hospital and recreation and kill any chance of bringing industry into our area? The only way this county is going to get a tax relief is bringing industry in.”
Smith said he agreed with Stephens’ comments, and had nothing further to say.
Commissioner Butch Mosely said, “Doing what you think is the right thing is often difficult. As bad as I hate to see what has transpired, I feel like we did the right thing, and I stand by my vote.”
Commissioner Rusty Davis said, “The city has done a great job funding recreation with little-to-no help from the county over the years. This mil and a half is the fairest way—the way I look at it—to cover the citizens of Decatur County. For years, the city has funded recreation for all kids in Decatur County, and I just think this is the fair thing to do.”
Commission Chairman Dennis Brinson said, “Unfortunately, when you’re broke, you start looking for money in other places. As a result of that, we create a recreation authority and a hospital authority because as a board, those are the things that will help us move this county forward… It’s our job to make the right decisions moving forward, and I believe we made the right decision tonight.”
Alan Thomas expressed his appreciation for the participation from the public.