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Posted: April 21, 2014 2:26 p.m.

BOC working on budget to drop tax rate

Committee and full-board meetings open to public

With a goal of lowering the county’s property tax rate, after raising it last year, the Newton County Board of Commissioners is set to kick off its part of the budget process in earnest and officials will be looking for ways to cut costs and increase revenue.

The Board of Commissioners will have a budget work session at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Newton County Fire Services headquarters, 4136 A U.S. Highway 278, Covington, located in between Pizza Hut and McDonald’s.

In addition, the county is having several budget committee work sessions (see box for the dates), which will also be open to the public.

According to a budget outline given out by the county earlier in 2014, county departments have already prepared their initial budget requests for fiscal year 2015, which will run from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015.

The budget committee work sessions will be review meetings where commissioners and other officials will have a chance to look over the proposed budgets, ask questions and give their input.

Unlike prior years, Newton County is moving to a two-year budget cycle with the aim to enable better long-term planning and spending less time on budget preparation. The budget being prepared will be prepared to carry the county from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016, with opportunity for adjustment throughout, according to the budget outline.

The board voted 4-1 in July to increase the county’s property tax rate (officially called the millage rate) from 10.91 to 11.54. According to a prior analysis by The News, the tax increase allowed the county to collect an additional $1.16 million in property tax revenue it would have otherwise lost because of falling property values.

In her July motion to increase the rate, Commissioner Nancy Schulz called for a strategic planning process with the “goal of lowering the millage rate in two years”; the board didn’t specify at the time how much it would lower the rate. Chairman Keith Ellis has said repeatedly he wants to see the property tax rate lowered this year.

The county’s tax digest – which includes the value of all land, buildings, vehicle and industrial equipment and machinery in the county – for the 2014 calendar year hasn’t been released by the Newton County Tax Assessor’s office, but county officials are hoping (as they have been for years) that the digest will finally increase in value this year. The digest declined for the fifth consecutive year in 2013, dropping from $2.3 billion to $2.17 billion.

Commissioners have discussed multiple ideas in strategic planning work sessions this fiscal year, including trying to restructure the landfill and recycling center’s operations to save money or increase revenue and hiring a grant writer to bring in more revenue. The county is currently pursuing contracting with a grant writing company. The topic of the landfill and recycling center restructuring hasn’t been discussed publicly at recent board meetings.

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