The Covington News - - Front page -

to match rev­enues to nec­es­sary county ser­vices. The ad­justed mill­age rate, af­ter sub­tract­ing the sav­ings re­sult­ing from the in­surance mill­age rate roll­back which hasn’t been used re­cently, for most of the 1990s hov­ered in the 7 mill­age rate range.

He said while the com­mis­sion­ers were gen­er­ally con­ser­va­tive, there also wasn’t much growth. The county nor­mally would build on the pre­vi­ous year’s county bud­get and ad­just for any new costs like build­ing open­ings or added in­fra­struc­ture. Long-time Com­mis­sioner Rev. Harold Cobb said he it was al­most im­pos­si­ble to have the same bud­get from year to year in the 80s and 90s be­cause the needs would change slightly.

Ac­cord­ing to Allen and other cur­rent and for­mer com­mis­sion­ers and fi­nan­cial of­fi­cials, the pas­sage of the Ge­or­gia Tax­payer Bill of Rights in 2000 was the turn­ing point.

The main pur­pose of the tax­payer bill of rights was to pro­tect tax­pay­ers from in­di­rect in­creased taxes due to prop­erty value in­fla­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Rev­enue’s web­site.

In the 2000s, prop­erty val­ues in­creased nearly ev­ery year, which means prop­erty own­ers paid more taxes ev­ery year, be­cause the mill­age rate re­mained at 9.73. Al­though the elected of­fi­cials were not rais­ing the mill­age rate, prop­erty own­ers were still pay­ing more.

Whether this is a “tax in­crease” ap­pears to be a se­man­tic ar­gu­ment. Some of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the peo­ple who run mil­lager­ate.com, a site ded­i­cated to mill­age rate is­sues in Ge­or­gia, be­lieve the roll­back rate should be used ev­ery year.

Nearly ev­ery year the 9.73 rate has ex­isted, tax­pay­ers have paid more money than the year be­fore. In fact, any mill­age rate above the roll­back rate re­quires ad­di­tional pub­lic hear­ings and ad­ver­tis­ing, since it amounts to a tax in­crease, a re­quire­ment of the tax­payer bill of rights. So even if the mill­age rate doesn’t change, taxes can still in­crease.

How­ever, the county was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ex­plo­sive growth dur­ing the decade, grow­ing by 60 per­cent or more.

Com­mis­sioner Mort Ewing, who has been on the BOC since 2001, said the roll­back rate was a ma­jor dis­cus­sion on ev­ery board on which he’s served.

“We were play­ing catch up. We had huge growth in the late 90s, and that just con­tin­ued when I took over in 2001. Our in­fra­struc­ture had not caught up and with the in­crease in the value of the di­gest, we de­cided to leave (the mill­age rate) where it was and ba­si­cally live off what­ever growth the di­gest had,” Ewing said Tues­day.

Ewing said he will not vote for the 10.9 “rollup” rate, be­cause he said sev­eral busi­ness own­ers have told him the rate will hurt them.

“Agri­cul­ture, busi­ness and in­dus­try can­not stand a tax in­crease right now. I had two peo­ple in my of­fice this morn­ing, and two stop me at post of­fice, say­ing we sure hope you hold the line,” he said.

Chair­man Kathy Mor­gan said she doesn’t be­lieve there is a right bud­get, but at the same time the rollup rate makes the most sense to her.

She said if the county costs more than $55 mil­lion to run in FY2009 and more than $48 mil­lion in this fis­cal year, then ei­ther the county bud­get was over­in­flated or the pro­jected $43 mil­lion bud­get with a 9.73 mill­age rate is not suf­fi­cient. It’s prob­a­bly some­where in the mid­dle, but it can’t be both ways.

She said if the county should only pro­vide $43 mil­lion in ser­vices, then it prob­a­bly over­charged res­i­dents in past years.

“It’s a dif­fer­ence of philoso­phies … I do feel that we right-sized last year. But this year (if we cut more) it will hurt,” Mor­gan said Tues­day, not­ing that up to 80 sher­iff’s of­fice em­ploy­ees, out of a to­tal of 285, could be cut at a 9.73 rate.

It’s pos­si­ble that up to 120 out of the county’s 610 em­ployee po­si­tions could be cut depend­ing on which bud­get is ap­proved; res­i­dents will have to de­cide for them­selves whether this fits their bud­get phi­los­o­phy.

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