Dougherty County commission to vote next week on property tax hike recommendation

July 25 – ALBANY – Like a college student facing the pizza delivery driver at the door, the Dougherty County Commission, seeking to reduce an anticipated property tax increase, removed the cushions from the couch, turned it over, and swept it away. well shaken.

The results weren’t dramatic, however, and there was little change to be discovered, leaving the group looking at a mileage rate increase of at least 3.5 mills.

After passing a general fund budget of approximately $58.6 million in June, a slight decrease from the $58.9 million actually allocated for the 2021-22 budget year, commissioners then voted to approve the implementation of an employee compensation study that will add an additional $3 million. to the 2022-2023 expenditure plan.

The county’s financial adviser, Edmund Wall, was actually behind the search for more revenue, and of several ideas considered, he found only one that had potential. It was a 10% annual transfer from the county’s solid waste fund to the general operating budget, which this year would be about $468,000.

Unlike municipalities, the county has few options other than property taxes, said Wall, managing director of Public Finance Investment Banking.

“My clients with (corporate funds like utilities), almost all take a portion of the profits from these profitable funds and transfer them to keep property tax rates lower,” he said. “Most clients charge franchise fees. I suggested you implement a 10% franchise fee on your business (landfill) fund. Your landfill fund is healthy. he can afford to pay a franchise fee of $468,000.”

After Wall recommended a 4.5 million raise a week ago, the commission asked him to consider other sources of revenue, but none of the others seemed feasible. Ideas explored included a “commuter tax” levied on residents of other counties who work in Dougherty County and a special tax district established for properties whose owners receive tax breaks for enrolling them in tax programs. conservation.

After exploring these options and based on the commissioners’ request to reduce the tax increase, Wall’s recommendation was to increase by 3.5 million for the 2022-2023 budget year which began July 1. and another million next year. Without the increase, Wall estimated the county would be shortfalls of $7.5 million for the current budget year and $8.5 million for the next.

A 3.5 mill increase would raise taxes on a $100,000 home by about $12 per month. A 4.5% increase would be about $15 per month for the same property.

The driving forces behind the need for the cash are inflation, including the sharp rise in fuel prices for county equipment, and rising salaries for employees, whose salaries and benefits account for approximately 80% of the budget. total.

The approved wage package will increase the minimum wage for county employees from $10 to $13 per hour and provide a cost of living adjustment of at least 2.5% for all employees beginning October 1, plus a $1,000 one-time adjustment payment for all employees to be paid in December.

For Commissioner Gloria Gaines, one question was whether the increase for employees takes money away from taxpayers who earn less to pay for the increases.

The county’s average income is about $21,000, Wall replied.

Gaines also asked if any cost-cutting measures had been considered.

“Have we taken a critical look? she says. “I asked this question last week; do we provide the services we can afford? Do we provide Cadillac service on a Chevrolet budget? I always have trouble with expenses, if we have carefully considered our expenses .I don’t see voting for a tax hike.”

Commissioner Clinton Johnson, the only member of the three-member finance committee to vote against recommending a $3.5 million increase, and Commissioner Victor Edwards asked Wall if it would be best to implement the previous recommendation of 4.5 million this year. It would make it unnecessary to vote to approve tax increases for two consecutive years and provide a cushion to provide future pay raises if the commission decides to do so, Edwards said.

The last compensation study implemented by the commission dates back 22 years.

“We hurt the employees,” Edwards said. “I don’t want to hurt the employees, and I don’t want to hurt the taxpayers. If we have to take the hit, I’m not going to nickel and dime the 3.5. I’d rather do it all at once.”

The county’s budget contains very few frills, said Commissioner Russell Gray, who along with Commissioner Ed Newsome joins Johnson on the finance committee. Much of the constitutional functions are mandated, from the sheriff’s office, the jail, and the court system.

“These are all things that we are constitutionally required to provide,” he said. “We are a middleman, and we are a non-profit middleman.

“We have to be careful with our taxes and we have to be careful with our spending. We have to pay our employees enough. (But) we have to provide those services. I think it’s a balance.”

Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas’ main concern was public safety. He was also a strong supporter of raises for employees and said he understood the feeling of inflicting the pain in a single year instead of prolonging it over two years, likening it to tearing a bandage off the wound.

“I understand the logic,” he said. “If you’re going to do it, then go ahead and do it. If it costs an extra $15 a month to keep my family safe, I’m willing to pay for that. I hate spending $100 on gas, but I’m willing to pay that ($15).”

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