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Posted: June 27, 2014 10:04 a.m.

BOC increases budget, lowers millage

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Newton County's proposed 2015 budget, which was agreed upon by a consensus Thursday night.

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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