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County adopts new total property tax millage rate for 2007
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Newton County property owners who've recently had their homes reassessed might be paying more this year on their property taxes, but they can take comfort in the fact that the county's total property tax millage has actually decreased (though very slightly).

The Newton County Board of Commissioners adopted a total property tax millage rate of 12.42 for 2007 at their board meeting Tuesday night. The 12.42 millage rate does not include the Board of Education's current millage rate of 19.21 or the millage rates of county municipalities. The county's total property tax millage rate in 2006 was 12.46.

The board kept the same millage rate for county operations that it has had for the last seven years at 9.73. The Newton Medical Center indigent fund millage rate remained the same as last year at 1.2. The state of Georgia millage rate of 0.25 also remained the same.

 Decreasing slightly was the Emergency Medical Services millage rate which fell from 0.47 in 2006 to 0.45 this year. The Newton County Fire Services millage rate also fell from 0.81 in 2006 to 0.79 this year.

The board ruled an increase in the county's operational millage rate was not necessary because Newton County had increased its total tax digest by 12.4 percent since FY 2007 as a result of the enormous growth coming into the county.

The BOC also approved the county's fiscal year 2008 budget Tuesday night which is 10 percent larger than last year, rising from $47.8 million to $53.3 million. However it is a smaller percentage jump than the FY 2007 budget which grew by 13 percent from the FY 2006 budget of $41.8 million.

The FY 2008 budget of $53.3 million includes funding for 37 new county personnel, including 22 personnel at the Newton County Sheriff's Office and at the Newton County Detention Center. The budget also included funding for a 1.5 percent cost of living pay increase and a 3.5 percent merit pay increase for all county employees. In addition $2.8 million has also been allocated for county road improvements.

According to Newton County Chairman Aaron Varner, the lion's share of increased revenue went to hiring new personnel and to more capitol appropriations. The county is expected to spend $3.8 million more on personnel in FY 2008 than it did in FY 2007. From an initial $9.9 million in appropriation requests from all county departments, the board was able to grant nearly $7 million in requests.

The BOC has budgeted $3.9 million for capitol outlays for FY2008 which includes the $2.8 million for road improvements, $300,000 for 15 new vehicles for NCSO and $115,000 for new computer software for the Detention Center.

The board was able to approve $577,650 more in capitol outlays in FY 2008 than it was in FY 2007. Not receiving funding were $866,781 in capitol outlay requests from county departments.

County public safety departments continue to receive a large chunk of funding, with NCSO receiving $9.1 million, the Detention Center receiving $9.4 million and county fire services receiving $4.4 million. The Newton County Public Works Department was allocated $7.3 million for FY 2008 and the Recreation Department was allotted $2.3 million.

Though the board approved the 2007 millage rate with little fuss, when it came time to approve the budget, two board members voiced their disapproval with what they saw as the lack of appropriate funding for recreation facilities and for the county's Senior Services Department.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson objected to the fact that the county was spending so much on the Detention Center.

"We're spending more money on jails than on people who pay taxes," Henderson said.

District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons objected to what he called certain "pet projects" receiving funding because a majority of commissioners voted for them while other projects were ignored because they didn't have enough support from the commissioners. Simmons named the Civic Center in downtown Covington as one such project which he did not approve of but which received funding from the county.

Former District 2 Commissioner Ronnie Dimsdale voted in favor of funding the Civic Center right before his term ended at the end of 2006.

"I don't agree with some of the comments made about the Civic Center," Simmons said. "You find certain pet projects in your district. Let's not sit here and say that it was all agreed to."

Other commissioners hotly disagreed with the assessments of Henderson and Simmons.

"We've addressed all the services that residents demand," District 3 Commissioner Ester Fleming said. "We've got to run the government like a business. We can't dish it out. This is a good solid budget and it addresses the needs of the people."

Echoed District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing, "I think the most responsibility I have is to make sure that the county operates on a balanced budget. I think this board has put together a good budget."

Ewing noted that both the county's Senior Services Department and Recreation Department have recently received awards for their excellent service and concluded that they must be doing something right to receive such awards.

The FY 2008 budget passed in a vote of 3-2 with Henderson and Simmons opposing.

Said Varner of the commissioner's disagreements over the budget, "I don't think there's ever been a budget that we've had that we've been able to get everything that everyone wanted in it.

"I think the board is very conscious of tax increases. We try to approach this to fill in the needs of the citizens and not go up on the millage rate anymore than we need to," Varner said.

According to Varner, many people in Newton County don't realize just how expensive it is to run all of the county's operations. On a daily basis, county operations cost tax payers $145,945.