Pub­lic safety tax hike looms

Ma­jor­ity of BOC lean­ing to­ward jump in mill­age rate to fund raises

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - DARRYL WELCH dwelch@cov­

Four of five mem­bers of the New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers (BOC) said Tues­day night that they ei­ther sup­port or are lean­ing to­ward sup­port­ing a .20 in­crease in the county’s mill­age rate to make pub­lic safety salaries com- pe­t­i­tive with sur­round­ing coun­ties and en­hance the county’s abil­ity to re­cruit and re­tain deputies and fire­fight­ers.

The mill­age rate would go from 13.44 to 13.64 un­der the pro­posal.

County Man­ager Lloyd Kerr and Fi­nance Di­rec­tor Ni­cole Cross pre­sented two bud­get op­tions, A and B, to com­mis­sion­ers at the BOC’s May 30 work ses­sion. Op­tion B, which con­tains the tax hike, would give the county’s sworn Sher­iff’s Of­fice deputies and Fire Ser­vice Op­er­a­tions em­ploy­ees pay in­creases con­sis­tent with rec­om­men­da­tions made in a mar­ket anal­y­sis of county salaries. The pro­posed bud­get would also give all non-pub­lic safety county em­ploy­ees a 5 per- cent cost of liv­ing ad­just­ment.

Op­tion B would also trans­fer $500,000 into the county’s cash re­serve and $300,000 into the fund bal­ance. Kerr said the .20 in­crease would add ap­prox­i­mately $20 per $100,000 of as­sessed value of a home to tax bills.

Op­tion A, which main­tains the mill­age at the cur­rent 13.44 rate gives all non-pub­lic safety county em­ploy­ees a 5 per­cent cost of liv­ing ad­just­ment while giv­ing sworn deputies and fire op­er­a­tions per­son­nel ei­ther a 5 per­cent in­crease or an in­crease to the new pro­posed min­i­mum, which­ever is greater. Op­tion A would trans­fer $500,000 into the cash re­serve and $225,411 into the fund bal­ance. Salary in­creases would take ef­fect in Jan­uary 2018.

Com­mis­sioner Lanier Sims said he wants to ex­am­ine the whole bud­get but that he is lean­ing to­ward op­tion B.

“Our main ob­jec­tive was to take care of the em­ploy­ees. We knew we wanted to do at least 5 per­cent, but af­ter go­ing through the ex­er­cises and see­ing where our deputies and our fire­fight­ers com­pare to other coun­ties, I knew then that we had to go above that 5 per­cent to get them as close to be­ing whole as pos­si­ble,” he said.

Ad­dress­ing the need for quick pub­lic safety re­sponse times, Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schulz said she is also lean­ing to­ward op­tion B.

“We need deputies, we need to make sure that we are mov­ing to­ward a com­pa­ra­ble salary,” she said.

Schulz also said she wants to ex­am­ine the bud­get plan fur­ther.

Cit­ing the re­cently ex­tended SPLOST (Spe­cial Pur­pose Lo­cal Op­tion Sales Tax) and new charges for trash dis­posal for a large por­tion of cit­i­zens in the county, Com­mis­sioner Stan Ed­wards said he sup­ports op­tion A, which in­cludes no mill­age in­crease.

“We’ve had free trash for so many years, and now that’s, in essence, an­other tax, whether it’s levied or not,” he said, “op­tion A is the op­tion I’ll sup­port.”

Com­mis­sioner JC Hen­der­son sup­ported op­tion B, say­ing that now is the time to stop kick­ing the can down the road with re­gards to pub­lic safety salaries.

“Op­tion B would give the op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing for our em­ploy­ees, stop the bleed­ing and hope­fully re­tain first re­spon­ders,” he said.

Com­mis­sioner Ron­nie Cowan said he sup­ports op­tion B, even though as a Repub­li­can, he is sup­posed to be on the “no mill­age rate in­crease side.”

“No­body likes to say they’re vot­ing for a mill­age in­crease,” he said, “what I’m vot­ing for and sup­port­ing is pro­vid­ing fund­ing for ser­vices that are needed in this county. The fact that we are short on law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers is crit­i­cal. That’s a ba­sic obli­ga­tion that gov­ern­ment is re­quired to take care of.”

Both bud­get pro­pos­als are con­tin­gent on where the county’s tax di­gest comes in. This year’s di­gest is ex­pected to show an in­crease of 5 per­cent. Cross said that an in­crease of 6.5 per­cent would make op­tion B pos­si­ble with­out a mill­age rate in­crease.

The next BOC bud­get work ses­sion is sched­uled for Wed­nes­day, June 7, at 6 p.m.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.