BOC in­creases budget, low­ers mill­age rate

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­news.com

New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers came to a con­sen­sus of a budget of $47.71 mil­lion and a mill­age rate (property tax) of 11.225 for its con­stituents at its budget meet­ing Thurs­day night.

The mill­age rate is more than a quar­ter of a point lower than the cur­rent mill­age rate, which is 11.54. Fis­cal year 2014’s budget was $45.95 mil­lion, bring­ing fis­cal year 2015’s newly agreed upon budget to an in­crease of $1.76 mil­lion.

The in­crease in budget and lower tax rate was ap­proved 4-1, with com­mis­sioner John Dou­glas look­ing for a rate lower than 11. A sim­i­lar thought to chair­man Keith El­lis’s sen­ti­ments of a lower mill­age rate be­fore the board went to vote.

“11.225 doesn’t make com­mis­sioner (Dou­glas) and I re­ally happy but we’ll go on,” El­lis said.

The in­crease in budget will be put into the county in sev­eral ways, with the first change that was dis­cussed among com­mis­sion­ers be­ing a raise and re­moval of fur­lough days for em­ploy­ees.

“We’ve asked a lot of our em­ploy­ees since 2009,” Com­mis­sioner Lanier Sims said. “I look at (New­ton County) and I look at the fire and sher­iff de­part­ments, just for two ex­am­ples — I look at how much those de­part­ments spend to train these guys. We’re spend­ing thou­sands of dol­lars to get them trained. A year or two later there’s a Brookhaven, McDonough or an­other county or city of­fer­ing a lit­tle more. So they leave. We don’t just loose good em­ploy­ees — we lost an in­vest­ment. We’re los­ing that money we put in there.

“I be­lieve at some point for our strate­gic plan­ning we need to dig our heels deep in the sand, draw a line in the sand and say we’re not just go­ing to give back hol­i­days, we’re go­ing to give raises. We have to start giv­ing these em­ploy­ees hope. I be­lieve, just from me talk­ing to em­ploy­ees, they’ve lost com­plete hope in the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers.”

Among the other items dis­cussed in the budget was adding se­cu­rity sys­tems in re­sponse to House Bill 60,

other­wise known as the gun bill. The com­mis­sion­ers agreed to put in se­cu­rity sys­tems and deputies to run them at the New­ton County Ad­min­is­tra­tive Build­ing and the His­toric Court­house. They agreed to let New­ton County Sher­iff Ezell Brown re­search and get back to them whether or not the ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ing needed one or two posts, cov­er­ing the main and hand­i­cap en­trances.

The budget was ap­proved in the com­mis­sion’s fourth budget meet­ing af­ter dis­cus­sions over sev­eral mill­age rates, in­clud­ing one pro­posed at 10.99.

“I un­der­stand our em­ploy­ees haven’t had pay raises in five, six or seven years,” Dou­glas said. “I un­der­stand we have em­ploy­ees leav­ing for other coun­ties; there is al­ways go­ing to be a Brookhaven or a McDonough or Johns Creek that can pay more. I just have a real prob­lem with us tak­ing an­other nearly $2 mil­lion out of the pock­ets of our tax pay­ers.”

There will be three ten­ta­tive pub­lic hear­ings on the budget, July 9 at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. and July 17 at 6:30 p.m. The budget will then go in front of the com­mis­sion for a vote dur­ing the third ten­ta­tively sched­uled pub­lic hear­ing on July 17.

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